Music is probably the Cuban artistic expression most extended throughout the world. Cuban music began to transcend the national boundaries at the beginning of the 20th Century and ever since, the different rhythms of the island have been acclaimed with great success in different arenas. Of all the arts, music is perhaps the one which has influenced the personality of Cuban people the most, evolving quickly and with great force.
The Habanera is a musical genre which stemmed from the creoles dances and contradanse (a French version of the 18th-century English country dance) which were popular during the colony. It also influenced the appearance of the Tango and other South American airs or tunes. The tempo of the Habanera is already present in some of the pieces of composed by Manuel Saumell (also called the Nationalist), for example, the first part of Tedesco practically presents the same structure as that which later became the danzon , an elegant dance which first appeared in the island in the late 1870s. Even the rudiments of modern songs and guajiras are present in many of his compositions.
The music known son and bolero were brought to Havana from the eastern provinces, specifically from the area around Santiago de Cuba. The bolero appeared at the beginning of the 20th Century, with songs by composers Alberto Villalon, Sindo Garay and Pepe Sanchez who composed Tristezas in 1883. Although most of the songs of La Vieja Trova were boleros, composers such as Orlando de la Rosa and Isolina Carrillo wrote two of the most sublime pieces of all times: “Dos Gardenias”. It is estimated that the genre referred to as son montuno appeared during the second half of the 19th Century.
In 1920, the legendary Sexteto Habanero made its first appearance in dances hosted by the high society of the capital. Matamorros began his long and fruitful career in 1925 in Santiago de Cuba and several of his songs are considered all time classics such as “Son de la loma”, ”Mariposita de primavera” and “Lagrimas negras”.
A few years later, the virtual “golden age” of son began with the emergence of dozens of sextets and septets. Some of these groups were recorded by leading US record companies.
The original founders were rapidly followed by Arsenio Rodriguez, Miguelito Cuni, Felix Chapotin y Roberto Faz, while Arcaño y sus Maravillas, La Sensacion and other danzon and charanga bands took Havana by storm and in no time were playing in practically every festivity organized in the capital (1940s and 1950s). In 1950, Enrique Jorrin composed la “La Engañadora”, which is considered the first cha-cha-cha and in 1952, Perez Prado launched his first mambo.
The son experienced a second era of splendor during the 1950s with the presence of Benny More, considered the greatest Cuban singing star of that period. This singer and composer revitalized traditional rhythms and introduced the concept of jazz band, thus exerting a significant influence on the evolution of Cuban and Caribbean music.
The popular group Los Van-Van emerged during the 1970s with their own peculiar style. Later the music known as salsa came into being. It is considered a hybrid form of Latin music which incorporates Caribbean rhythms and the sound made by Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican communities in New York. Cuban salsa is famous throughout the world and reached its grandeur towards the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990´s, with the bands such as Los Van-Van, NG La Banda and Irakere and young groups such as Paulo FG and Isaac Delgado, which are still popular today. The most recent expression of Cuban music combines salsa, hip hop and a mixture of Brazilian rhythms and is considered very controversial.
The most disseminated popular Cuban rhythms are the son, danzon, cha-cha-cha, mambo and salsa, a derivation of the son. As an example of the universality of Cuban culture, there is also Cuban jazz, Cuban hip hop and rap, whose roots can be traced to American Jazz and Jamaican reggae. Chucho Valdes, an outstanding Cuban musician has been internationally acclaimed and recently artists such as Ibrahim Ferrer (singer), Ruben Gonzalez (pianist) and Compay Segundo (guitarist and singer) have experienced a second comeback, thanks to the sounding success of Buena Vista Social Club.