Rumba Always in Fashion
By: Rafeal Lam / Photos by José Tito Meriño
Rhythms come and go and dances go out of style even more quickly, but core music remains; the rumba is one of these. With thunderous pace and strength, it was an original Cuban music.
Now that we are in a resurge of the rumba craze, it would be good to remember that those foundation tunes, which we consider basic in the American sound heritage, did not have a kind and sweet birth. They had lots of troubles and faced lack of understanding from the ruling social classes.
Rumba was born in the arc formed by the provinces of Matanzas and Havana, mainly in the port areas where the Africans were grouped when they were brought to Cuba in the tragic times of slavery. People of African descent originally used the word rumba as a synonym for party.
With time the African communities became actual rumba conservatories through the strength of oral tradition. Even so, the music of the drums took a long time to break free and had to hide in secret societies and slave houses. An energetic Afro-Cuban dance, rumba was often suppressed and restricted because it was viewed as dangerous and lewd.
One of the first prohibitions against this rhythm is included in the police and government edicts of 1792. There is also an 1893 news report of the arrest of a group of mulatto men in the western city of Matanzas for going out on the street to dance rumba without prior permission.
Rumba moved slowly from the esoteric into cabarets, lounges and eventually television, but it was well into the 20th Century before restrictions against rumba disappeared.
In 1956, then Cuban Secretary of Education Juan J. Remos denounced the night clubs that had the rumba as an attraction and even urged the government to “take care of tourists and shift them from Havana’s cabarets”. Remos declared that tourists “can’t understand Cuba by visiting those places because rumba dancing and music aren’t typical of Cuba”. After 1959, Cuban cultural authorities gave full attention to genuine national folklore. The National Folkloric Ensemble was created, with many outstanding figures like Lazaro Ros, Chavalonga. Today there are countless rumba bands and rumba is the rhythm that feeds many other musical expressions, such as Afro Cuban Latin Jazz, salsa, pop, rock and timba (a uniquely Cuban music form, intense and slightly aggressive).
Travelers come to Cuba from all over the world to enjoy this natural, pristine, primitive, and authentic music.
This is Cuban rumba, music that is never out of fashion, because it is a collective and fun party that, with its drum dialogue, tells the story of a people defending its identity.