Latino Studies Rumba
Gustavo Pérez-Firmat
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0078


The music and dance known as rumba (sometimes spelled “rhumba”) is an Americanized, ballroom-style adaption of several Cuban rhythms, principally the son (or son-pregón), with secondary influence of the Afro-Cuban rumba. Originating in the late 19th century among the black population of the eastern Cuban province of Oriente, the son is a vocal, instrumental, and dance genre also derived from African and Spanish influences. The Afro-Cuban rumba developed in the black urban slums of Cuba in the mid-19th century. It encompasses vocal performance, drumming, and improvisational dancing. In the 1920s, Cuban composers and performers combined elements of both son and rumba in their music and dance, and their exciting and exotic rumba de salón became popular in the nightclubs and cabarets of Europe. In the early 1930s, rumba was introduced in the United States, but the music, which became popular in the 1930s and 1940s, featured tame Anglophone lyrics combined with “Americanized” orchestrations or, as it is often termed, “watered-down” Cuban music. The dance that emerged resembled the Cuban ballroom son with added foxtrot dance moves. It is uncertain when or how the word “rhumba” acquired an “h,” but it came to represent the “Latin” rhythms and melodies that fill the American songbook to this day.

Reference Works on Cuban Music

The references included here provide an introduction to the various genres of music and dance from the island of Cuba. Manuel, et al. 1995 and Roy 2002 provide historical and social overviews of Cuban music in the context of the Caribbean. Pérez Sanjurgo 1986 offers a comprehensive history of music in Cuba, while Orovio 2004 presents entries on specific forms of Cuban music. See also the subsection Critical Studies and Collections of Essays introducing and analyzing the genres of Cuban music and the influences of Africa and Spain. A third section includes essays focusing specifically on the origins, musical forms, and lyric structure of rumba and son.

  • Manuel, Peter, Kenneth Bilby, and Michael Largey. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

    An accessible critical overview of Caribbean music. The historical origins and social contexts of the music are presented in each chapter, accompanied by a bibliography and discography. Useful discussion of creolization and syncretization of Caribbean musical styles.

  • Orovio, Helio. Cuban Music from A to Z. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822385219

    Brief but comprehensive entries on forms of Cuban music, performers, instruments, including origins, musical construction, and variations of rumba.

  • Pérez Sanjurgo, Elena. Historia de la música cubana. Miami, FL: La Moderna Poesia, 1986.

    A detailed chronological account of music in Cuba; includes theatrical, opera, art music, patriotic songs; music of Cuban provinces; Afro-Cuban rhythms; glossary of Cuban musical instruments.

  • Roy, Maya. Cuban Music: From son and rumba to the Buena Vista Social Club and timba cubana. Translated by Denise Asfar and Gabriel Asfar. Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner, 2002.

    Traces Cuban music’s development from its roots in the slave population to the Cuban revolution; chapters on genres including rumba and son; discography and glossary.

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