Rumba, a true art of living

Rumba, a true art of living

The Rumba is a folkloric musical genre of Cuban origin. It is composed of three main forms: the Yambú, the Guanguancó and the Columbia. Each of these forms is played, sung and danced with their own specificities.

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016 as representative of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, Rumba is undoubtedly the mother of contemporary Cuban music and has been since its origin in the 19th century.

The music and movements of Rumba in Cuba are rooted in African culture mixed with elements of Spanish culture as a result of colonialism.

Historically, Cuban Rumba developed between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the poor neighbourhoods of Cuban cities like Matanzas and Havana. Often near the ports at the crossroads and solares, it was particularly popular in rural areas where communities of African slaves lived.

It should be noted that Rumba is generally played during festive gatherings for different occasions (birth, birthday, wedding, funeral…) sometimes open to all: Rumba Abierta.
The audience draws a circle in front of the group of musicians and singers so that the dancers can express themselves. In the 19th century, groupings were forbidden and severely punished, so the Rumbas were secret.

As for the rumbero songs, they are unique and merge poetry, history, legend and daily life.

Rumba is a major symbol of Cuban society and identity.
It is an expression of self-esteem and resistance to the difficulties of daily life that slaves endured. It should be emphasised that since its origin, Rumba has been a breath of fresh air and an ode to hope.

Diosdado Ramos, director of the famous Muñequitos de Matanzas, an institution in the Rumba world, is a living encyclopaedia of Rumba. I was able to see this for myself when he received me at his home to discuss the subject.
In an interview for he explains: 

Diosdado Ramos - Muñequitos de Matanzas

Rumba is an Afro-Cuban musical genre born in Matanzas almost 300 years ago. Imagine a shack with slaves of different origins, each ethnic group with its own language, dances, songs, sacred drums… and a shared feeling: nostalgia for their land and their freedom. The rumba is the result of this harmonious mixture of elements and feelings, it is the means of expression that these men have found to speak of their joys and sorrows, their passions and their religions.

Generic decomposition of a Rumba

Rumba is composed of 3 main musical forms: the Yambú, the Guanguancó and the Columbia. The 3 forms are composed in the same general way:

  • Introduction / Diana / Lalaleo / Llorao

    Sung part with a typical signature reminiscent of flamenco. It is accompanied by the clave and then the percussion. This introduction serves to introduce the theme with a story and to prepare the chorus. This whole introductory part is dedicated to the main singer. The Diana is not danceable!

  • Estribillos - Dialogues Soloist / Coros

    Short interventions by the choirs to punctuate the narrative of the main singer (Gallo) and to give more relief and emphasis to the introduction (exchanges “with you – with me“). The guía (soloist) improvises while the choirs respond.

  • Coros

    Part where the music gradually accelerates to Montuno. The choirs introduce the chorus.

  • Montunos = Climax

    The part where the choruses are sung in concert by the whole group and the crowd. Through Montuno, the lead singer invites the dancers to join in and express themselves with their best dance moves.


The different forms of Rumba


To begin with, Yambú is the slowest, most melodic and one of the oldest forms of Rumba. Its origins are believed to be in the slums of the province of Matanzas. Yambú is danced as a couple, although there is no strong connection with one’s partner. However, it is not uncommon afterwards to see couples dancing some very short Son steps. On the whole, this is danced to a slow tempo with a game of seduction where the man tries to seduce the woman. 

As many Rumba choruses emphasise, Yambu is universal. That is to say, it is made for everyone to dance from 7 to 77 years old and beyond. This style is often favoured by older people who keep the original meaning of Yambú. Currently, we see more and more Yambú getting closer to the Guaguancó dance and distancing itself from its original DNA.

Atttention: El Yambú no se vacuna!

The Guaguancó is the most popular and modern form of Cuban Rumba. Indeed, it is the evolving and urban form of Yambú. As for the music and dance, it highlights the attraction between the man and the woman through a couple’s game called Vacunao or Abrochao. The man waits for the opportunity to try to “vaccinate” his partner, while she protects herself from his attempts. A real studio acting game 😀

The dancer’s intention can be triggered by any part of the body or by a scarf, hat… Then, the dancer protects herself with her hand, her dress or a scarf… Although the general goal is to vacunar his partner, the real objective is elegance and skill in the attempts and protections.

Born in the rural areas of Matanzas, the Columbia is probably the oldest form of Rumba. Unlike other forms of Rumba, the Columbia is danced alone and is dedicated to the greatest dancers. This musical form is also very demanding for the musicians who have to maintain a very high cadence for sometimes more than 30 minutes.

In short, the Columbia is one of the first urban dance battles. It sounds anachronistic but it is true. During a Columbia the best dancers challenge each other in turn to prove their physical, technical and musical skills and the virtuosity with which they perform them. Each one tries to surpass the previous one in the cauldron, in la caliente. On the other hand, originally reserved for men, there have always been women rumberas who dance it.

Finally, the Columbia usually stops when the singer considers that the best dancer has passed or today when there are no more dancers willing to enter the circle.

There are also other styles or currents of Rumba: Rumba de Santo, Rumba de bottella, Jiribilla, el Guarapachangeo…

Nowadays, Rumba is played with Congas, Chekeré, Kata y Clave, but before, all you needed was a pair of spoons, your hands and a box of cod or guava to start the party. Born in the street, Rumba is danced everywhere, in the Theatre and in the world.


Rumba is an art of living. A way of being, of speaking, walking, dressing

The dances and songs express a deep sincerity, a grace, a sensuality and a joy that aims to connect people, regardless of their social and economic background, their gender or their ethnicity.

As you may have noticed, Rumba is omnipresent in Timba , both in music and dance. It brings a real colour in the movements and in the interpretation. Moreover, many dances have been inspired by these movements.
Here is an exemple!

It should also be pointed out that if Rumba is recognised as world heritage by UNESCO, this is also due to the success it has had in Europe. In particular in festivals, such as the first Afro-Cuban festival in Europe (2010), the Guaguanco Festival in Barcelona organised by Jorge Camaguey. The work of sharing and cultural safeguarding done by the alliance of Cuban dancers and teachers and European enthusiasts has been one of the triggers for this official recognition.


Here are some iconic Rumba bands : Los Munequitos de Matanza, Yoruba Andabo, Clave y Guaguanco, Los Papines, Timbalaye , Afro Cuba …


After the theory, let’s get down to business. Rumba or Salsa con Rumba, let’s go!
La Rumba te LLAMA !

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