Cuba and the Mamba

The Rumba

 

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Abstract

Cuban music has a unique music style, much different from that of other Latin American countries. One such music style is called the Rumba. This style of music has evolved out of a combination of African, Spanish, and Haitian, debatably, Native Cuban cultures. Rumba incorporates multiple styles of music including the Son, Danzon and Guaracha (Leymarie). This type of music expresses one's life circumstances through sung stories and dance. The drum is a central component to the Rumba. Despite the global popularization of the Rumba, over the years the communist Cuban government has actively tried to suppress its spread. However, the Rumba has managed to survive and continues to be an integral part of Cuban music styles.

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Introduction

  Cuban music shares some common styles with other Latin American countries. Some of these styles include Latin and Jazz music. However, Cuba has also managed to maintain its own unique musical styles, including the Rumba. This style of music has come out of the syncretism of African, Spanish, Haitian and possibly Native Cuban culture The traditions and cultures of African, Spanish, Haitian and possibly Native Cuban have come together to create today's Cuban culture, and distinct elements from the original four can still be seen today in Cuba. Many of these original traditions have been passed down over generations. In particular, Afro-Cubans have tightly held onto their traditions, enabling them to survive to today. Cuba's remote location and isolation from other groups of people has contributed to the survival of these traditions, which includes its unique style of music.

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Location, Geography, and Climate of Cuba

Cuba is a small island located ninety miles south of Miami, Florida (Britannica).  It has a subtropical climate, similar to that found in southern Florida.  Cuba has a land area of 110,860 square kilometers.  The landscape is primarily flat with rolling plains, hills and mountains (Britannica). The fact that Cuba is an island has given it a distinct personality. Its isolation as an island allows its culture to live without being too heavily influenced by outside sources. As a result, Cuban music has survived decades without undergoing dramatic changes.

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Brief History of Cuba

 

Cuba was one of the first colonies to be established in Latin America (Moore). In 1492 Christopher Columbus claimed Cuba for Spain, then the conquest of the island began in 1511 (Britannica). The Native Cuban Indian tribes were the Taino and Siboney (Leymarie). However, these tribes died out quickly following their contact with the Spanish colonists (Britannica). This was because the colonists brought diseases with them, which the Natives had not previously been subjected to and thus lacked a defense against. These diseases include Typhoid fever and Smallpox.

From 1511 until the Spanish American war in 1898 Cuba was under Spanish control, thus much of its culture and institution were of Spanish origin. Much of Cuba's defining history took place from the seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century. Cuba has had a turbulent history, composed of multiple revolts, revolutions and wars. The slave trade of Cuba was officially outlawed in eighteen-seventeen, though the trade continued for several years illegally. Slavery itself was not abolished until 1832 (Sierra).

The United States has always had an interest in Cuba, attempting to purchase Cuba from Spain in 1848, 1852 and 1854. Cuban rebels begin fighting the Spanish for control of the country. In 1898 the U.S. joined the war effort for their benefit. They entered following the destruction of the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba (Sierra). The explosion of the ship is blamed on the Spanish. In the same year, the U.S. passed the Teller amendment, which stateed that the U.S. should not have the intention to take control of Cuba following the war. However, the U.S. did not follow their own amendment and did maintain control of the country after receiving control of the country from Spain on December 10,1898 from the Treaty of Paris (Sierra). Cuba remained under U.S. control until 1953 when Castro led his first revolution.

Cuba is now a communist country under the leadership of Fidel Castro. In 1953 he led a revolution to overthrow the American presence in Cuba. This revolt was successful, though Castro did not gain personal control of the country (Sierra).  Following this initial revolution, Fidel was exiled to Mexico.  In 1959 he returned to the island to lead another revolution, this time gaining power (Britannica). Cuba became a communist country under Castro, leading to the US and Cuba severing their relationship.  During this time, Cuba made an alliance with the USSR, also a communist country at this time. This led to Russia placing missiles in Cuba and aiming them towards the US, leading to the period in American history know as the Cold War. The US placed an embargo on Cuba, meaning we do not trade with them nor are we permitted to visit the country (Sierra).  This embargo has also cut off access for Cubans to the outside world.

Many Cubans try to leave Cuba and its oppression.  Often they fashion together rafts made out of any material they can find.  These rafts often fall apart and leave their passengers to drown.  Those whose rafts do survive typically try to enter the US through such places as Miami.  If the people make it to shore without being caught by law enforcement, they are granted political asylum and are considered political refugees.  This has led to a large Cuban population in southern Florida.  Cuban-Americans try to pressure the American government to lift the embargo and get rid of Castro.  As Castro is very old, it seems as if the US is waiting for his death before taking any action to remove communism from Cuba. Castro's death could mean the fall of communism in Cuba

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Distinctive Features of Cuba

 

Cuba has a unique population. This group of people includes Spaniards, Africans, Native Cubans and Haitians as well as other islanders. This mix of people has led to the creation of a new race. This new race is called the Mulatto. It is typically a mixing of African and Spanish people, creating the typical Latin American look.

Cuba was a stylish country prior to the embargo, which America placed on Cuba. Wealthy people would fly over to Havana, the capital, for a day.  There they could enjoy gambling and nightclubs.  One could say it was a precursor to South Beach, Miami. Now, with the embargo, this nightlife industry has died and left Cuba, though it still does receives some tourism.

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Origins of Rumba

Cuba has a large African population as a result of the slave trade of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Moore).  During this time, thousand of Africans were shipped from Western Africa to Cuba for enslavement. The slaves of Cuba worked on the sugar plantations as well as on other farms. These slaves brought with them their language, religious beliefs, music, culture and traditions of their native Africa (Leymarie). These traditions include song and dance, which were used in celebrations and religious ceremonies. This influence can still be seen in today's Cuban music.  Cuban music traditionally incorporates the use of drums, an African instrument brought to Cuba with the slave trade. It was also an indigenous instrument. The one used in the Rumba evolved out of the combination of both the indigenous and the African drum (Davies). The Spanish colonists also influenced Cuba's music style through their poetry, literature and folk music (Davies).  Commentators are divided about how much influence the indigenous people had on the Rumba. Some say this population died off so quickly that they did not influence Cuban music (Smallwood). Others argue that the native style of dance can be seen in the Rumba (Daniel). This blend of Spanish, African, Haitian and indigenous Cuban music has resulted in what we now know as Cuban music.  One of the prominent styles of music is called the Rumba.

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Sample Song: Rumba De Los Rumberos  

Original Lyrics of Song and Translation

Interpretation of Song

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Prognosis for this Musical Genre

This Music will live on as it has been around for so long already.  The Rumba has survived being repressed by the government and decades of trials.  It is going anywhere anytime soon.  The Rumba is here to stay.

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Conclusion

The Rumba is a reflection of Cuban culture. It combines many different cultures into a unique one. These cultures include African, Spanish, Haitian and possibly indigenous Cubans. Cuba's remote location has allowed it to maintain its unique style without being overwhelmed by outside influences. The Rumba encompasses dance, song and celebration. It symbolizes and embodies the Cuban Culture.

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Internet References Cited

  • Centralhome

    2004   The History of Dance: The Rumba. Centralhome.com.

    Sierra, Jerry

  • 2003 The Timetable History of Cuba www.HistoryofCuba.com

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

    Britannica, Encyclopedia

    2003   The Republic of Cuba; Socialist Republic, West Indies. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.

    Centralhome

      2004   The History of Dance: The Rumba. Centralhome.com.

    Daniel, Yvonne

    1995   Rumba: Dance and Social Change in Contemporary Cuba. Bloomington Indiana University Press.

    Davies, Rick

    Trompeta Chappottin, Chocolate, and the Afro-Cuban Trumpet Style. The

    Scarecrow Press, Inc. Lanham Maryland and Oxford.

    Leymarie, Isabelle

    Cuban Fire: the Story of Salsa and Latin Jazz. Continuum. London New York.

    Moore, Robin

    1997 Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubanismo and Artistic Revolution in Havanna, 1920--1940. University of Pittsburgh Prss.  Pitrsburgh, Pa.

    Havana, 1920-1940. University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh, Pa.

    Roy, Maya

    1998 Cuban Music.  Markus Wiener Publishers. Princeton, NJ.

    Smallwood, Lawrence

    1976 African Cultural Dimensions in Cuba.  Journal of Black Studies.  Sage Publications. Publications, Inc.

     

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Contact Jim Aimers | ©2004 Miami University