One of the least known Afro-Cuban religions, Abakua is a ‘males-only’ secret fraternal society that follows rules similar to European Masonry. 

Ali Farka Touré (Talking Timbuktu)

Ry Cooder, in collaboration with Malian guitarist-vocalist Ali Farka Touré, received the Grammy in 1994 for this Best World Music album.  

Arsenio Rodríguez

One of the three pillars of Cuban music (the other two are Beny Moré and Miguel Matamoros). Rodríguez was the architect of the Cuban sound as we know it today. He added drums and more brass to enrich the classic conjunto style in the 40s. After decades of fame, Rodríguez died in obscurity in Los Angeles in 1972. 


Double-headed drums shaped like an hour-glass with one cone larger than the other. The drums are sacred to the Yoruba religion in Nigeria, as well as to worshippers of Santería in Cuba and in the U.S.

Beny Moré

One of the most revered figures of Cuban music. Beny Moré had the charisma, the voice and the musical genius of the great ones. His major contribution was the creation of the Cuban-style big band. 

Betto Arcos

Betto conceived and created the daily world music program “Global Village” on 90.7 KPFK, Pacifica Radio’s Los Angeles radio station. As the Monday host since 1997, Betto has interviewed the full range of world-class musicians, including Angola’s Waldemar Bastos, Algeria’s Cheb Mami, Argentina’s Gustavo Santaolalla, India’s Ronu Majumdar, Peru’s Susana Baca, France’s Manu Chao, Mexico’s Café Tacuba, as well as members of the Buena Vista Social Club. Through KPFK’s “Global Village”, Betto helped to launch the career of Lila Downs, one of Mexico’s emerging world music artists.


A slow, romantic ballad that originated in Cuba, and a style that quickly roamed across the globe. Bolero lyrics deal with classic love story material. In Mexico, the bolero was revitalized by trios performing with acoustic and lead guitars, incidental percussion and harmony vocals.  


Bassist Israel López is known for his contribution to the creation of the descarga or Cuban jam session. Along with his brother Orestes López, Cachao is also responsible for building the musical foundation of the Mambo.  

Celia Cruz

Cuba’s all-time most popular and charismatic vocalist. She achieved international acclaim with La Sonora Matancera in the 1950s. Celia Cruz left Cuba just before the 1959 Revolution. To this day, Cruz continues to tour and record music. She was featured in the Playboy Jazz Festival 2000 at the Hollywood Bowl.  


The Cha-cha-cha was a bouncy ballroom dance developed in the 1950s and was an offspring of the more staid and elegant danzón. Among the artists that popularized it are Orquesta Aragón and Tito Puente.  


A folkish and up-tempo style from the eastern Cuban province of Guantánamo. The instruments include tres guitar, maracas and bongos.  

Chano Pozo

Cuban drummer and vocalist who had a short but stellar career in New York.

Pozo was a major influential figure in the development of Afro-Cuban Jazz in the U.S. His collaboration with Dizzy Gillespie on such classic compositions as "Manteca" set the standard for Jazz, Afro-Cuban Jazz and Latin dance music in the late 1940s.

Chico O’Farrill

A major Cuban arranger and composer who made his mark on the Afro-Cuban and jazz circuits in Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. with his unique approach to the big band sound of the 1950s.  


The basis of all Cuban music, into which every element of arrangement and improvisation should fit. Based on an offbeat 3/2 or 2/3 rhythmic pattern spread out over two bars.  


The Cuban conjunto combines vocals, trumpets, piano, bass, conga and bongo. In the 1940s, Arsenio Rodríguez created the modern conjunto by expanding the brass section and adding drums to give it back its African roots.


Cuban ballroom dance derived from the European 'contredanse' of the 1870s. The music’s lush and elegant sound was provided by violins and flute. 

EGREM Studios

Legendary recording studios in downtown Havana, originally known as Panart, where all the major figures of Cuban music have recorded, including Beny Moré, Arsenio Rodríguez, and, of late, the Buena Vista Social Club "family."  

Faustino Oramas

Also known by his nickname of El Guayabero, the ultimate composer of guajiro music. His specialty is lyrics laced with double-entendres and sexual innuendo.  

Gonzalo Rubalcaba

One of Cuba’s finest pianists and one of the first recording artists to be signed by the respected Blue Note jazz label. Rubalcaba follows in the great tradition of Cuban pianists with an exceptional ability to play jazz and Afro-Cuban music equally well. 


In the literal sense, refers to a peasant or any native of the Cuban provinces. The music played by guajiros can be called Cuban provincial or country music and is played with the tres guitar and percussion (bongos, maracas), over which verses are structured in the decima (ten-line) style of 17th century Spain.  


Originally a topical song genre for a chorus and a solo, improvisational vocalist. One of the most popular styles used by today’s salsa bands, it also continues to thrive among traditional music ensembles.  

Jesús Alemañy

Trumpet player and bandleader of “Cubanismo!” A former member of the traditional Cuban music ensemble Sierra Maestra along with Juan de Marcos González, Alemañy’s band is at the forefront of the most recent resurgence of Cuban music.  

Machito & His Afro-Cubans

The first, and perhaps the finest, marriage between Afro-Cuban music and jazz. In the 1940s, Machito and His Afro-Cubans, under the musical direction of Mario Bauzá, achieved one of the most successful Latin music careers in the U.S.  


Originally created by the brothers Israel and Orestes Lopez, of the legendary Cachao clan. The mambo was a very popular style of music and dance in the 1940s and 50s. One of the figures responsible for its popularity was the Cuban bandleader Perez Prado, who spearheaded the Mambo craze in Mexico.  

Mario Bauzá

One of the most influential figures in Afro-Cuban music, Bauzá is directly responsible for creating the first melding of jazz and Afro-Cuban music. His many years as musical director and arranger for Machito and his Afro-Cubans set the standard for Afro-Cuban music. 

Mongo Santamaría

Influential Cuban conga player, bandleader and composer who pioneered the marriage between Afro-Cuban rhythms and R&B. His most famous composition, “Afro Blue,” became a jazz standard in the 1960s and was recorded by John Coltrane among many others. 

Nueva Trova Cubana

A musical as well as cultural, social and political movement that began in the mid-sixties and intimately associated with the Cuban Revolution. While it followed the long tradition of Cuban singer-songwriters or troubadours, its main purpose was to promote an international sociopolitical consciousness and further revolutionary ideals. Its most famous interpreters are Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez, both of whom, it should be noted, have moved far beyond the confines of the “protest” genre with highly complex and experimental music.  


Cuba’s eastern-most province and the cradle of Cuban music, where it all began over a hundred years ago.  

Pablo Milanés

One of the major figures of the Nueva Trova Cubana, Milanes’ early work includes a full length recording which set the poetry of Cuba’s national hero Jose Marti to music, called Versos Sencillos. Among his most popular songs are “Yolanda”, “Para vivir”, and “Son de Cuba a Puerto Rico.” Universal Music has released his complete recording collection. 

Pueblo Nuevo Barrio

A working-class neighborhood in Havana where many of the major figures of golden-era Cuban music hailed from — including Chano Pozo and Buena Vista Social Club musician and producer Juan de Marcos González.  

Rubén Martinez 

L.A.-based journalist and poet who has long written on Latin music for numerous publications (he is a former Latin pop critic for the Los Angeles Times). He has visited Cuba in the past and traveled over much of Latin America. Principal writer for this website.


A word commonly used in the U.S. since the 1920s to describe any kind of Cuban music. The rumba is a dance and music genre comprised of three variants: the columbia, yambú and guaguancó.


The contemporary name for Cuban dance music. The word refers to the music’s hot, up-tempo energy and uplifting vitality.  


Cuba’s adaptation of the West African religion of Lucumi, in which Old World deities were transformed into Catholic icons. The Santería religion has given Latin music much of its rhythmic and melodic foundation. 


In 1930s Cuba, septetos played mostly sones and boleros and were made up of trumpet-led string groups, with tres guitar, maracas, bass and bongo. Two of the major groups were Septeto Nacional and Septeto Habanero. The style they played fell somewhere in between guajiro and conjunto.  

Silvio Rodríguez

Nueva Trova Cubana artist, perhaps one of Cuba’s most respected and worshiped singer-songwriters and a major figure in Latin American music. Rodríguez’s songs transcend all language and geographical barriers. Though he has written many songs in defense of the Cuban revolution, the majority of his compositions are complex poems full of melody and exceptional arrangements. Among the most popular recordings are Mujeres, Playa Giron and, more recently, Silvio, Rodriguez, Dominguez and Descartes.Sociedades

Members-only social clubs of 1940s and 50s Cuba where the middle- and upper class socialized and danced to Cuban music.


The essence and heart of Afro-Cuban music. Cuban son is the result of the meeting of the African and Spanish elements that gave birth to what we know today as “tropical” music (salsa, rumba, Latin jazz, or “Afro-Cuban”). It is an extremely flexible form. The son can be a spiritual, or a love song, or just a plain old dance jam. While it has flourished throughout Latin America, the original root can be traced back to the Oriente province of Cuba at the dawn of the 20th century. 

Son Montuno

One of the first forms of the son tradition, which included an improvised section, the montuno, and that is characterized by an intensely energetic quality.


A singer or improviser who performs Afro-Cuban son. The best ‘soneros’ can improvise rhythmically, melodically and verbally against the refrain, or coro of the song. 


A big band or orchestra of as many as 15 musicians and usually several vocalists and whose main purpose is to perform danceable music. The big, brassy sound of the sonora was initially popularized by bands like La Sonora Matancera in the late fifties and sixties.  


A new approach to Cuban dance music (salsa), popularized by such bands as Los Van Van and NG La Banda. The timba sound was influenced by American pop music and is characterized by a fast and complicated piano style.  


Cuban guitar made up of six strings doubled in three sets. The tres is an essential instrument of Cuban guajiro music and was an important instrument of the Cuban conjunto.  


A repeated rhythmic pattern for bass and congas. Based on the clave beat, the bassist’s tumbaos provide the scaffolding for the constant rhythmic counterpoint of the percussionists.

V.M. Bhatt (A Meeting by the River)

A collaboration between Ry Cooder and India’s Hindustani slide guitarist V.M. Bhatt. The album was awarded the 1993 Grammy for Best World Music album.  


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Musical artists appear courtesy of World Circuit/Nonesuch Records.
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