The Beauty of Cuban Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The Beauty of Cuban Folk Music is a blog dedicated to exploring the rich history and culture of Cuban music. From the traditional sounds of the Cuban orchestra to the more modern styles of Cuban hip hop, this blog has something for everyone.


Cuban folk music is a beautiful and unique form of music that has its roots in the island’s troubled history. Cuban folk music is a blend of African and European influences, and it has been through a long process of evolution. Cuban folk music is often lively and upbeat, and it often has a strong message of hope and love.

What is Cuban Folk Music?

Cuban folk music is the traditional music of Cuba. It consists of a wide variety of genres, including abakuá music, Yoruba-derived rumba, son, Guajira (a form of Cuban country music), Cuban percussion, and Afro-Cuban jazz.

Cuban folk music has been influenced by a number of factors, including the island’s native Taíno and Ciboney peoples, as well as the African slaves brought to Cuba by Spanish colonists. The music also reflects the influence of Spain, which controlled Cuba for centuries. In addition, Cuban folk music has been influenced by a number of other styles from around the world, including Caribbean and Latin American styles.

Cuban folk music is often based on call-and-response patterns and includes a wide range of instruments, including drums, percussion instruments, guitars, maracas, güiros (scrapers), marímbulas (thumb pianos), claves (wooden sticks), and horns. The lyrics of Cuban folk songs often deal with topics such as love, nature, and historical events.

Cuban folk music has played an important role in the development of other genres of Cuban music, such as son cubano (a style that combines elements of Spanish canción and Afro-Cuban rhythms), rumba (a style that developed out of Yoruba drumming), and salsa (a style that incorporates elements of Afro-Cuban rhythms and rhumba).

The History of Cuban Folk Music

Cuban folk music is a unique blend of African and European influences. The African influence can be traced back to the early days of the Cuban slave trade, when slaves were brought over from Africa to work on plantations. Over time, these slaves developed their own musical traditions, which were later mixed with the music of the European colonists.

Cuban folk music has been influenced by many different styles, including Spanish flamenco, African drumming, and even North American jazz. This rich history can be heard in the traditional folk music of Cuba.

The Instruments of Cuban Folk Music

The music of Cuba, including the instruments used, reflects the diverse history of the island. African drums and percussion instruments were brought to Cuba by slaves, and the Spanish introduced guitars, tambourines and brass instruments. Cuban folk music also incorporates elements from other cultures, such as the Haitian merengue and the Rhumba from Africa.

The most important instrument in Cuban folk music is the Cuban drum, or tumbadora. These drums are traditionally made from hollowed-out tree trunks covered with animal skin. The tumbadora is played with two sticks, and is used to keep time for the other instruments in the ensemble.

The maraca is a gourd-shaped percussion instrument that is also used in Cuban folk music. It is played by striking it with one hand while holding it in the other. The claves are a pair of wooden sticks that are struck together to produce a sharp, distinctive sound. They are also used to keep time for the other instruments in the ensemble.

The guitar is another important instrument in Cuban folk music. It is usually played in an acoustic style, and often has a distinctive rhythmic quality known as montuno playing. The montuno consists of chords that are played in quick succession, usually on beat four of each measure. This provides a backdrop against which the lead melody can be played.

The bongo is a small drum that is played with the fingers or sticks. It provides a steady beat for the other instruments in the ensemble. The conga is a large drum that is similar to the bongo, but has a lower pitch. It is usually played with two sticks, and provides a deep, thumping sound that helps to drive the rhythm of Cuban folk music

The Styles of Cuban Folk Music

Cuban folk music is incredibly diverse, with a wide range of styles that have developed over the years. Cuban folk music is a mix of African, European and Native American influences, which can be heard in the various styles of music that exist on the island. Here are some of the most popular styles of Cuban folk music:

Santería Music: Santería is a religion that originated in Cuba, and its music is deeply influenced by Yoruba traditions from Africa. Santería music is mostly vocal, with drumming being an important part of the tradition. The songs often deal with religious themes and are used as part of rituals and ceremonies.

Rumba: Rumba is one of the most popular and well-known Cuban folk styles. It originated in the streets and was originally frowned upon by the upper class. Rumba is a lively, rhythmical dance music that is usually played on drums and claves (wooden percussion instruments). The lyrics often deal with everyday life, love and loss.

Son: Son is another very popular style of Cuban folk music. It originated in the eastern part of Cuba and was influenced by Spanish melodies as well as African rhythms. Son is a very danceable form of music and features guitars, trumpets and other brass instruments. The lyrics often deal with love, loss and yearning for home.

Trova: Trova is a style of Cuban folk music that developed in the 19th century. It was deeply influenced by Spanish traditions, specifically flamenco guitar playing. Trova lyrics are often sentimental and deal with themes such as love, loss and nostalgia.

The Influence of Cuban Folk Music

Cuban folk music is a beautiful and unique genre that has been profoundly influential both within Cuba and around the world. Cuban folk music is characterized by its use of traditional instruments, its distinctive rhythms, and its focus on storytelling.

The traditional instruments used in Cuban folk music include the maraca, the clave, the tres, and the bongos. These instruments are often used in combination to create the distinctive rhythms that are characteristic of Cuban folk music. The maraca, in particular, is a key instrument in Cuban folk music, as it is used to keep time and add flavor to the sounds of the other instruments.

The rhythms of Cuban folk music are some of its most distinctive features. These rhythms often have a syncopated quality, which gives them a sense of propulsion and excitement. They are also often quite complex, with multiple layers of sound that interlock with each other to create a rich texture.

Another key element of Cuban folk music is its focus on storytelling. This is evident in both the lyrics of many popular songs and in the way that instrumental pieces are often constructed around narratives. The stories told in Cuban folk music often deal with topics such as love, loss, history, and nostalgia. In this way, they provide a window into the hearts and minds of the Cuban people.

Cuban folk music has had a profound influence on other genres of music from around the world. In particular, it has been a major source of inspiration for jazz musicians. The syncopated rhythms, complex textures, and storytelling elements of Cuban folk music have all played a role in shaping the sound of jazz over the past century.


In conclusion, Cuban folk music is a beautiful and complex art form that has been shaped by the island’s rich history. From the Afro-Cuban rhythms of rumba to the Spanish influenced son, Cuban music is truly unique. The next time you’re looking for something new to listen to, give Cuban folk music a try. You might just be surprised by how much you enjoy it!

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