Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Cuban folk music

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Music awards  Beny Moré Award
National anthem  La Bayamesa
Religious music  Abakuá Arará Iyesá Makuta Palo Santería Yuka
Traditional music  Changüí Coros de clave Kiribá Nengón Tumba francesa

Cuban folk music is very diverse and has been influenced by Spanish people, slaves from Africa and the remaining indigenous population of the Caribbean.


Classification of genres

The Cuban folk music is the traditional music that persisted up to the first decades of 20th-century. Many of this genres entered the popular music sphere.

The Cuban folk music is classified in complejos by musicologists:

  • Complejo de la rumba, with its variants yambú, guaguancó, columbia, congas and comparsas.
  • Complejo del danzón, with its variants contradanza, danzonete, mambo and chachachá.
  • Complejo del son, with its variants changüí, sucu-sucu and guaracha.
  • Complejo de la canción. Bolero, filin.
  • Complejo del punto, with its variants punto libre and punto fijo.
  • All the genres are performed by people of different ethnicities, afrocubans, mulatos, trigueños and whites.


    Many of the instruments played in the Cuban folk music tradition are still played in modern Cuban folk music. Instruments such as the Congas, Cajon and the bata drums were brought to Cuba by slaves from Africa. As well as the marimbula this is related to the mbira from Africa.

    Private clubs

    We now turn the focus to Havana. By the 1940s many of the cities had grown greatly. There were many members-only clubs, such as cigar-rolling clubs, or baseball clubs, as well as music clubs. Entrance to these clubs was based on ethnicity. One such club was the Buena Vista Social Club. People would go there to dance and sing and listen to traditional Cuban folk music.

    Ibrahim Ferrer

    Two well known artists that played at the original Buena Vista Social Club were Ibrahim Ferrer and Ruben Gonzalez. Ferrer was born at a dance. His mother died when he was twelve. After his mother died he was forced to drop out of school and make a living. He made a band with his cousin called "Jovenes del Son" which helped to make ends meet. In the 1940s he sang at the Buena Vista Social Club. When the club closed and his Bolero singing went out of style he was forced to shine shoes for a living. When Ferrer was found for the Buena Vista Social Club documentary he was shining shoes in the streets of Havana. He was seventy years old. The Buena Vista Social Club documentary brought him fame. After the film was released he released his first solo album in 1999 and then in 2000 he was nominated for a Latin Grammy for best new artist at the age of seventy-two.

    Ruben Gonzalez

    Ruben Gonzales was a piano player at the club. He began playing piano at seven years old. He studied piano all through school. When he got out of school he didn’t want to become a concert pianist because he was quite fond of the traditional Cuban music, “particularly son, a guitar-led fusion of African percussion and Hispanic harmonies that underpins most modern Latin American dance forms.” After he graduated, at age fifteen, he played with many, many people and bands. He has been acknowledged as one of the leading pioneers of Cha-cha-cha and the Mambo in the early 1960s. In the late 1960s he was in an organized band called “Orquesta de Enrique Jorrín” for twenty-five years, when the band's conductor died. Gonzalez took over and conducted for two years and then he retired in the 1980s. After he retired he released a few solo albums with the help of Ry Cooder and took part in the documentary The Buena Vista Social Club.

    Cuban folk music traditions are still alive today, thanks in part to the Buena Vista Social Club documentary. Many of the men and women that were in the film did not get recognition for their traditional music until right before their deaths. When you listen to this music you can hear a strong sense of nationalism. There are no political songs, they are all about love affairs of the heart as well as disappointment and infidelity.


    Cuban folk music Wikipedia

    Similar Topics
    The High and the Mighty (film)
    Steve Ball
    Gary Mulligan