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date: 03 December 2022

Cuba’s Second Golden Age of Popular Music, 1989–2005free

Cuba’s Second Golden Age of Popular Music, 1989–2005free

  • Anita Casavantes BradfordAnita Casavantes BradfordDepartment of Chicano/Latino Studies, University of California, Irvine
  •  and Raúl FernandezRaúl FernandezDepartment of Chicano/Latino Studies, University of California, Irvine


The years between 1989 and 2005 were a period of exceptional musical productivity and creativity, a “second golden age” of Cuban popular music—the first golden age referring to the 1950s explosion of the mambo and the cha-cha-chá. During this more recent golden age multiple and diverse forms of musical expression gained traction, and island artists enjoyed a dramatic increase in international visibility. The exciting new sounds of timba and Latin jazz, the Buena Vista Social Club–styled reinvention of the son cubano, and the reemergence of música guajira during the 1990s all reflected the dynamic tensions between tradition and innovation, the local and global, and between an imaginary “authentic” and the much denigrated “commercial” that have long animated the island’s extraordinary musical culture. Despite the seeming newness and singularity of much of the music produced during this period, this second golden age was in fact characterized as much by cross-genre collaboration and continuities with earlier trends in Cuban music and musical culture as by the impact on musical production of unprecedented circumstances of economic deprivation of those years known as the Special Period. A closer look at this second golden age of popular music reveals a cosmopolitan Cuban musical landscape in which styles from different periods coexisted with ease and remained relevant, both as distinct sounds and in dialogue with one another, bringing together a dynamic community of musicians of all levels and styles, old and young, on and off the island. Dynamically poised between the forces of tradition and innovation, and beloved by both local and global audiences, the artists who rose to prominence or were rediscovered during these years each spoke, in their own unique ways, to the innovation, the cross genre collaborations, and above all to the profound historical continuities that have long animated the island’s extraordinary musical culture.


  • History of the Caribbean
  • Cultural History
  • Social History

Cuba has long been known as la isla de la música—the island of music—in recognition of the nation’s rich musical heritage. The years between 1989 and 2005 were a period of exceptional musical productivity and creativity during which island artists enjoyed a dramatic increase in international visibility. During this “second golden age” of Cuban popular music, the multiple forms of musical expression that gained traction varied widely, seemingly as distinct from one another as they were from the music that had been popular during the island’s first musical “golden age” of the mid-20th century. But the exciting new sounds of timba and Latin jazz, the Buena Vista Social Club–styled reinvention of the son cubano, and the reemergence of música guajira during the 1990s were in fact deeply connected to one another. They all reflected in their own distinctive ways the dynamic tensions between tradition and innovation, the local and global, and between an imaginary “authentic” and the much denigrated “commercial” that have long animated the island’s extraordinary musical culture.

Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis?

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new style of dance music began to be played in Cuba. At first called salsa cubana, the new sound would soon become known as timba, a word traditionally associated with the sound and spirit of the island’s popular street rumba celebrations.

The timba sound first emerged with the group NG La Banda, whose 1992 album En La Calle featured a song, “La Expresiva,” that paid homage to the barrios of Havana. In 1994, their song “La Bruja,” on the album of the same name, drew even more Cuban popular music fans to timba’s hard driving beat. The song, like most NG La Banda compositions, boasted a structural complexity rarely encountered in dance music anywhere in the world. The group’s technical virtuosity and electric stage presence propelled NG La Banda to local and international fame by the mid-1990s. In the wake of NG La Banda’s success, vocalist Isaac Delgado left the band to form his own ensemble in 1991, taking with him keyboardist, drummer, and composer Giraldo Piloto. Piloto would claim that it was his unique drum set stylings that gave birth to the timba sound. Another founding member of NG La Banda, Paulo FG, left the group to form his own in 1992.1

In 1994, Manolín, “El Médico de la Salsa,” burst onto the musical scene; the tresero, pianist, and composer Manolito Simonet left La Charanga Maravilla de Florida to form his now-immortal Trabuco; and the nouveau-traditional ensemble La Charanga Habanera, founded by David Calzado in 1988, changed its format and began playing popular dance music, becoming in the process the orchestra most identified with the sound of timba. Other timba artists and orchestras, including Dan Den, Son Son, Pachito Alonso y sus Kini Kini, and Bamboleo also rose to fame in this period. The conversion of popular dance bands to the new style culminated in 1996, when Cuba’s most famous dance band, Los Van Van, refurbished their format, cementing timba’s popularity with the release of their frenetic dance hit “Esto Te Pone la Cabeza Mala” on the 1998 album of the same name.

For nonspecialist fans of salsa, the most popular style of Latin dance music performed worldwide during the 1990s, timba sounded like a sudden and unexpected change in Cuban popular music. Fast, loud, and characterized by its multiple overlapping rhythms and deep booming basslines, timba was also recognizable for its insistent percussion and dense, rushing-note horn patterns. Several coro sections, rather than one, and fast and busy piano guajeos also differentiated timba from older Cuban music forms. For all these reasons, Timba was and is a highly technical style of music, and holding one’s own in a timba orquesta, especially in the horns, or “metales,” section, remains an accomplishment boasted by only the most rigorously trained and disciplined musicians. Nevertheless, the virtuosity of the genre’s leading artists was often overshadowed by the multiple controversies sparked by the hypersexual lyrics of many of its most famous songs. The self-conscious “street” posturing and both on- and offstage antics for which La Charanga Habanera became especially well known further distinguished timba from previous styles of Cuban dance music.

A number of scholars and critics have attempted to explain the ostensible “newness” of timba as a product of dramatic changes in Cuba after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when the sudden end of Soviet subsidies propelled the island into an unprecedented economic, political, social, and cultural crisis.2 For some observers, the fast and furious sound of timba, together with its hypermasculinity, sexuality, and occasional misogyny, was a direct expression of Cubans’ repressed anger and despair in the face of the extreme hardships of the Special Period. There are likely a few kernels of truth in this argument. It is equally likely that the most perceptive timberos noticed that the new sound’s driving beat and aggressive sexuality resonated strongly with young Cubans that came of age during the 1990s, and increasingly chose to employ lyrics, costumes, and stage personas that satisfied the tastes and desires of their most enthusiastic audience. To the extent that these things are true, timba may correctly be called the sound of the Special Period.

The timba explosion was nonetheless much more than a predetermined response to a new socioeconomic situation in Cuba. Closer examination reveals the genre’s complexity and diversity and its deep roots in the dynamic tension between continuity and change and local and global musical trends that has long characterized Cuban popular music. Conceived and performed by the same artists who had also been style makers in other genres, and in the hands of a new generation of young musicians who were skilled interpreters of jazz, funk, rock and roll, and rap, as well as their own Cuban musical traditions, timba can more appropriately be considered the culmination of a process of musical innovation on and off the island, especially in the African diasporic nations of the Americas, that had been in germination for several decades before NG La Banda burst onto the scene at the beginning of the 1990s.

At the heart of timba is the traditional rhythm of the Cuban son, since, as legendary flutist José Luis “El Tosco” Cortés of NG La Banda once said, “Anyone who doesn’t know how to play son can’t do anything else in Cuban music.”3 Yet, although both the son cubano and Afro-Cuban rumba are fundamental to timba, various other elements entered into the new style’s polyglot structure and vernacular: black American musical innovations drawn from the repertoires of R&B, funk, and hip-hop artists; English language pop-rock, which has been influential on the island since the 1960s; nueva trova and other modern Latin American balada and bolero traditions; reggae, cumbia and other Caribbean dance music styles; and even the highly commercialized “salsa romántica” that became popular in the United States, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and other nations in the late 1980s.

Occupying a prominent position among these many influences is the genre of Latin jazz. Many of the stylistic innovations first attributed to “El Tosco” and NG La Banda were in fact anticipated in earlier compositions by Irakere—the still-unrivaled Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble in which Cortés perfected his own musical skills after his apprenticeship with Cuba’s epic dance band Los Van Van—during the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, Irakere’s virtuoso pianist Chucho Valdés has pointed to the band’s 1977 tune “Aguanile” as a forerunner of the NG La Banda sound. While timba’s precise genealogy is yet to be determined, what is certain is that Irakere brought an attitude favoring experimentation, musicianship, fusion, and exploration of new frontiers in Cuban dance music to the forefront of the island’s musical culture, laying the ground for the explorations and innovations that would crystallize in the timba sound in the early 1990s.

One example that serves to illustrate this point can be found in the emphasis on percussion and the unique use of the drum set by timba bands. While most non-Cuban salsa bands remain faithful even today to the conventions for dance music orquestas established in mid-century Havana and New York, limiting their percussion sections to congas, timbales, bongos, and other small percussive instruments, Cuban dance bands after the early 1960s began to enlarge and strengthen their rhythm sections. In doing so, they were following the lead of Afro-Cuban percussionist Pedro Izquierdo—better known as “Pello el Afrokán”—the father of an energetic musical style known as the mozambique. Though short-lived in its popularity, the mozambique craze that overtook Cuba from 1963 to 1965 forever changed the island’s musical culture by introducing the rumba clave and multilayered drum patterns of Afro-Cuban street comparsas into popular dance music. In response to audiences that were no longer content with the thin-sounding percussion sections of earlier dance music, paileros in charanga ensembles like Ritmo Oriental, Maravillas de Florida, Aliamén, and Revé y su Charangón began to add accessories to their timbales. In subsequent decades, the drum set was increasingly used to fill in for the sound that Pello’s dozen drums had first produced. Bolstered by the influence of rock and roll on Cuban artists during this period, the drum set became a well-established component of Cuban Latin jazz and dance bands in the 1970s, when the strongly percussive songo rhythm adapted by Irakere and Los Van Van marked a clear point of differentiation between the dance music composed and performed by Cuban bands and the música bailable played by other popular Latin American and U.S. Latino groups.

Even though timba’s trajectory reflects more than thirty years of innovations in Cuban popular music, the new genre also reflects many continuities with the styles that preceded it. First and foremost among these is the close relationship between timba as a sound and the dances that it inspired. As it had following the advent of the son in the 1920s, the mambo in the 1940s and the cha-cha-chá in the 1950s, the appearance of timba on the popular music scene in Cuba gave rise to a new relationship between movement and sound. The despelote, the series of dance moves most closely associated with timba, was similar to another form of movement that appeared at approximately the same time on other Caribbean islands, especially in Jamaica, where it was known as “winin’.” Perfected by young female dancers who rotated their hips while circling their arms above their heads, the despelote spread across the island as new nightclubs, concert halls, and other public spaces opened in Havana throughout the 1990s.

Further evidence of timba’s continuity with Cuban musical history can be found in the professional and personal genealogies that link the genre to the past. Many cutting edge timberos began their careers in Latin jazz, charanga and other traditional musical ensembles. As previously mentioned, NG La Banda’s leader “El Tosco” had cut his musical teeth with Los Van Van before joining Irakere; also from Irakere came NG La Banda’s four brass players: Germán Velázquez, Carlos Averhoff, Juan Munguía, and José Miguel Greco, whose ensemble sound would be dubbed “los metales del terror.” In addition to Irakere and Los Van Van, NG La Banda also recruited talent from other major dance music ensembles, including vocalists Tony Calá from Ritmo Oriental and Paulito FG from Adalberto Alvarez y su Son. NG vocalists Isaac Delgado and Paulo FG would move on to form their own groups in the early 1990s, further disseminating the timba sound that they had helped create.

Many of the best known timberos also represented the next generation of the island’s most distinguished musical families, including descendants of artists closely associated with Cuba’s most venerable musical traditions. Giraldo Piloto, leader of the orchestra Klimax, is the son of Giraldo Piloto, who cowrote such memorable tunes of the 1950s as “Añorado Encuentro” and “Guajira con Tumbao”; he is also the nephew of famed Afro-Cuban percussionist Guillermo Barretto and his wife, the Afro-Cuban singer Merceditas Valdés. David Calzado Almenares, who played with Ritmo Oriental before founding the controversial La Charanga Habanera, is the son of Sergio Calzado, composer and singer for the famed 1950s Orquesta Fajardo and later founding member and vocalist of the charanga ensemble Estrellas Cubanas. David Calzado’s grandfather Angel Almenares (1902–1983) was a guitarist, composer, and early Santiago sonero, as well as a close friend of trova legend Sindo Garay. Lázaro Valdés, pianist and leader of the group Bamboleo, is the son of composer Lázaro Valdés, who also played piano for the iconic Cuban tenor and sonero mayor Benny Moré. Lázaro Jr. also counts Alfredo Valdés, lead singer in the 1920s and 1930s for the Septeto Nacional, and the famed Cuban singer Vicentico Valdés among his uncles. It is difficult to imagine family trees more rooted in Cuban traditional music.4

Yet another example of continuity between timba and other Cuban musical traditions can be found in the intriguing interplay between the sacred and the so-called profane that animates the genre. Despite timba’s preoccupation with street language and themes and its not entirely undeserved reputation for vulgarity, some of the most popular timba songs have been those that address religious themes and honor the profound spirituality of many Cuban musicians and their audiences. After sonero Adalberto Alvarez reached the top of the charts with the single “Y Qué tú Quieres que te Den” in 1993, other timba bands followed suit with hits like NG La Banda’s “Santa Palabra” (1994) and “Soy Todo (Ay Dios, Ampárame),” a spirit-filled poem by Eloy Machado set to music by Los Van Van in 1995.

Like any other form of musical expression, timba was not a monolithic entity. Some of its most popular artists deliberately eschewed the genre’s fascination with the “street” and adopted a softer sound. Isaac Delgado, a vocalist who enjoyed a passionate following both locally and internationally, successfully alternated in both his recordings and live shows between timba’s highly danceable rhythms, elegantly rendered ballads, and appealing reinterpretations of iconic canciones from the folk and protest song repertoire of 1970s nueva trova. Manolito Simonet and his Trabuco similarly created their own sound by refusing, unlike some other timba groups, to sacrifice melody on the altar of an all-encompassing rhythm, as well as by dedicating space on albums filled with contemporary dance hits to nostalgic cumbia and cha-cha-chá numbers from an earlier era.

At the same time, throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, many timba musicians known by general audiences as representative of particular styles collaborated with artists viewed as emblematic of other sounds, past and present. Thus Germán Velasco, one of the “brass terrorists” of NG La Banda, recorded with the “brass lovers” of Manolito y su Trabuco, while timba vocalist Calunga, who would faithfully reproduce sonero Arsenio Rodríguez’s most iconic songs of the 1940s on one of the most traditional of the Buena Vista Social Club CDs in 2002, also recorded with the hard driving band Klimax and with the more danceable Trabuco. Isaac Delgado and Adalberto Alvarez’s 1996 album El Chévere de la Salsa y Caballero del Son was coproduced by the traditional tresero Pancho Amat and the highly technical and jazz-influenced timbero Giraldo Piloto. These cross-genre and intergenerational collaborations, remarkable only for their ubiquity, have played a defining role in the emergence of the “new” sound of timba and provide compelling evidence of the presence of continuity as much as change in the recent history of Cuban popular music.

Back to the Future: The Buena Vista Social Club Phenomenon

The rise of the timba sound was soon followed by a renaissance of “classic” Cuban dance music from the 1920s through the 1960s. In 1997 the Buena Vista Social Club (BVSC), a group of elderly musicians who performed Cuban sones from the 1940s and 1950s, burst onto the world stage. Their rise to international fame was documented in the film of the same name. The message transmitted in the BVSC documentary, shot against a picturesque Havana background, was that these were master musicians, interpreters of traditional Cuban musical forms that had been forgotten with the passage of time and in the face of the indifference of Cuban cultural authorities. Many musicologists belittled the BVSC phenomenon as a nostalgic event, contrasting it with what the excitement of timba, which they characterized as an original and contemporary style of music. The reality was more complex. Just as timba had its roots in the past, the BVSC phenomenon was equally a product of its time, representing a revival of interest, especially overseas, in a style of music that had never stopped being played in Cuba.

While the eastern son sound of Buena Vista Social Club may not have been the primary musical referent in 1970s and 1980s popular music on the island, it had nonetheless become part of the classic repertoire of Cuban music, which continues to be regularly performed in the Casas de la Trova that were first established in Cuba in the 1960s. The Septeto Nacional became institutionalized in the 1960s and continued to play the music of the 1920s–1930s for the next five decades. In 1983 and again in 1987 Pablo Milanés attempted a revival of the eastern son with his two-volume LP Años, which included old Matamoros sones. But these recordings did not go far, largely for lack of promotion.

The renewed interest in “traditional” Cuban music that led to the creation of the Buena Vista Social Club can be traced back to a handful of Latin American artists who began recording nostalgic boleros, romantic ballads that had been popular through Latin America in the 1940s and 1950s, in the early 1990s. In 1991, Mexican crooner Luís Miguel released the album Romance, which included the Cuban standards “Contigo en la Distancia” and “Inolvidable.” Romance reached platinum status in the U.S. market, a previously unheard of accomplishment for a Spanish-language recording. Miguel promptly followed with the album Segundo Romances, which also went platinum. In 1992, the award-winning Mexican American vocalist Linda Ronstadt released the CD Frenesí, also featuring a selection of popular Cuban boleros. Featuring a group of jazz and Latin jazz artists, which included U.S.-resident Cuban percussionists Armando Peraza, Orestes Vilató, Walfredo de los Reyes, and Luis Conte, Frenesí earned Ronstadt a Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album.

In 1993, Gloria Estefan left behind her English-language “Miami sound” to record a widely acclaimed CD of traditional Cuban compositions, including boleros, sones, and danzones. Produced by the acclaimed Cuban musician and composer Juanito Márquez, Mi Tierra sold over eight million copies worldwide and won a Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album. Steeped in the sounds and ideas of the great musicians of the 1950s and 1960s, ideas and sounds the continue to link the contemporary Miami sound with contemporary Havana sounds, Mi Tierra illuminated the relationship between new forms like timba and earlier styles of Cuban dance music that enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 1990s.

Also preparing the way for the BVSC phenomenon were developments in Europe. In 1990, Tumbao Cuban Classics was formed in Spain. This label was dedicated to the recovery and conservation of historic recordings made of Cuban and Caribbean popular music. By 1994, the Tumbao label had produced more than thirty CDs, homages to artists including Arsenio Rodríguez, Pérez Prado, Machito, Miguelito Valdés, Ignacio Piñeiro, and Chano Pozo. During that same year, the distinguished Cuban tresero Compay Segundo performed in Seville and Madrid, where he signed a new recording contract with East-West Records. His double CD Antología was released in 1995. The Vieja Trova Santiaguera also toured Europe and recorded an eponymous CD, which was followed by their concert film, Lagrimas Negras. Shifting musical currents and events in Latin America, the United States, and Europe thus set the stage for the subsequent release of the initial three Buena Vista Social Club CDs.

The musical brains and the impetus behind the Buena Vista Social Club was Juan de Marcos González. The son of a musician, he was born in Matanzas, the cradle of the rumba and the danzón, in 1954. Shortly afterward the family moved to Havana into a neighborhood teeming with musicians, where he counted Compay Segundo, Arcaño, and Ignacio Piñeiro among his neighbors. He studied classical guitar at the Amadeo Roldán conservatory from the age of nine to fourteen and learned traditional guitar with Graciano Gómez, an old sonero whose fame dated back to the 1920s; he also taught himself to play rock-and-roll guitar. In 1976 Juan de Marcos took up the tres, and along with a group of other young musicians founded the group Sierra Maestra, which quickly became popular for its lively reinterpretations of traditional sones, as well as for a number of Juan de Marcos’s own compositions. Sierra Maestra released several albums throughout the 1980s before releasing Dundunbanza in 1994, on which they rerecorded several Arsenio Rodríguez classics, including the title song. Dundunbanza sold around 250,000 copies, an almost unheard-of accomplishment for an album in the world music category.5

The group’s newfound success allowed Juan de Marcos to open up a dialog with the World Circuit label, which contracted him to produce a CD featuring Cuban music from the 1940s and 1950s, which would be released as 1997’s Afro Cuban All Stars. World Circuit executive Nick Gold also contracted Juan de Marcos to produce a second CD, a fusion album of Cuban songs from the 1920s to 1940s that would be recorded in Havana, featuring a group of older Cuban musicians, two musicians from Mali, and the American blues guitarist Ry Cooder. Because of visa difficulties the musicians from Mali were unable to travel to Cuba. Undeterred, Juan de Marcos brought in local artists Compay Segundo and Eliades Ochoa to replace them, and drawing on All Stars artists Guajiro Mirabal and Rubén González, the hastily reconceived collaboration with Ry Cooder proceeded as scheduled. The resulting album, eventually given the title of Buena Vista Social Club, was also released in 1997.

The Buena Vista Social Club featured the vocals of the aging sonero Ibrahim Ferrer, veteran pianist Rubén González, and the guitar sound of ninety-plus-year-old Compay Segundo. Produced by Britain’s Nick Gold, the Buena Vista project served as a relaunching platform for elderly soneros like Pío Leyva, Manuel Licea “Puntillita,” Raúl Planas, and Omara Portuondo, the ageless grande dame of the Cuban bolero. Other featured artists were Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal on trumpet, Orlando Cachaíto López and Jesús “Aguaje” Ramos on trombone, Amadito Valdés on timbales, Eliades Ochoa on guitar, and Barbarito Torres playing the laúd. Their rendition of the song “Chan Chan” quickly became the hit of the project, and has since entered the pantheon of the most hallowed Cuban compositions, alongside songs like “El Manisero,” “Guantanamera,” “Lágrimas Negras,” and “Bilongo.” Both of Juan de Marcos’s new albums were nominated for Grammys in 1998, with Buena Vista Social Club taking home the award. The already popular album’s sales skyrocketed following the release of Wim Wender’s documentary of the same name, leading to further recordings by Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Rubén González, Omara Portuondo, Cachaíto, and “Guajiro” Mirabal. Other musicians also benefitted from the Buena Vista phenomenon, as Cuban music sales spiraled upward around the world.

Although propelled by overseas interest in traditional Cuban music, the Buena Vista phenomenon also owed some of its success—as did the timba craze that predated it—to changing conditions within Cuba. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991, international attention to the island and its culture increased, along with expectations of the imminent fall of the Castro government. At the same time, Cuban leaders, desperate for new sources of foreign exchange, reopened the once famed island destination to international tourism, a calculated economic decision which would have profound cultural consequences. As tourists from Europe, Canada, Japan, and the United States flocked to the island, they sought out local music venues, where they rediscovered the nostalgic Cuban songs that many of their parents and grandparents had enjoyed during the decades of the 1940s and 1950s. Moreover, in marked contrast to the youth-focused and aggressively urban sound of timba, “traditional” Cuban music was performed in large part by picturesque and seemingly unthreatening elderly Afro-Cuban men, a fact that made the repackaged son cubano later featured on the BVSC recordings all the more desirable to a primarily white and upper-middle-class world music fan base.

Riding the crest of his brainchild’s worldwide popularity, Juan de Marcos produced another two CDs. Featuring BVSC timbalero Amadito Valdés, Bajando Gervasio (2002) comprised a variety of Cuban musical styles from different eras, including an orchestral version of the famed rumbero Tío Tom’s “Guaguancó a los Barrios,” an orchestra changuí-based dance tune with vocals by salsero Isaac Delgado, and a bolero by timbero Giraldo Piloto Jr. De Marcos also performed on and played a major role in the production of the final Buena Vista album in 2004, Buena Vista Social Club Presents Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal. Honoring the memory of Arsenio Rodríguez through a faithful reinterpretation of a number of his greatest hits, the album highlighted the artistry of a panoply of Cuban musicians identified with different styles, including Latin jazz artists Javier Zalba and Roberto Fonseca, charanga flutist Policarpo Tamayo, Irakere’s superb conga drummer Angá, and timba vocalist Calunga. The diversity and broad range of featured artists on these two albums revealed the persistent overlaps between musical traditions and techniques that continued to link the traditional music of the presumptive past to the innovative new sounds of the 1990s.

Though imagined as nostalgic music, taken as a whole, the Buena Vista CDs defy the ethnocentric expectations of a world music market that imagines the musical cultures of small southern nations to be limited to a single signature style of “folkloric” music. They reveal instead a cosmopolitan Cuban musical landscape in which styles from different periods coexist with ease and remain relevant, both as distinct sounds and in dialogue with one another, bringing together a dynamic community of musicians of all levels and styles, old and young, on and off the island.

La Combinación Perfecta: Latin Jazz a lo Cubano

In the 1990s, the genre of Latin jazz also reached new heights of popularity. Musicians inside and outside of Cuba played an important role in the genre’s embrace by a growing audience on and off the island; however, Cuban musicians have been central to the development of Latin jazz from its very beginning. Indeed, the original style, a fusion of jazz with Cuban rhythms that emerged in Havana and New York in the 1ate 1940s, was first called Afro-Cuban jazz, or “Cubop.”

In New York City, Machito and the Afro-Cubans, Dizzy Gillespie with Chano “El Tambor de Cuba” Pozo, and Stan Kenton (backed by the Machito rhythm section) began playing and recording their own unique modes of Afro-Cuban jazz. In Havana, during the 1940s and 1950s, pianists Bebo Valdés, Peruchín Jústiz, and Frank Emilio Flynn were experimenting with a similar combination of jazz harmonies and Cuban montunos. By the 1960s, Latin jazz was thriving in Havana, led by Juanito Márquez, who was widely regarded as the decade’s top arranger. The 1970s witnessed the epoch-making appearance of the talent-filled band Irakere, along with other formidable musicians like trombonist Juan Pablo Torres and pianist Emiliano Salvador. In the early 1990s, two veterans of the Irakere orchestra now residing in the United States, Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, released a number of influential recordings together and separately. In 1991, these two great soloists teamed up to release their CD Reunión, which featured two Havana jazz standards by Irakere’s leader, virtuoso pianist Chucho Valdés: “Mambo Influenciado” and “Claudia.” In 1993, Paquito recorded 40 Years of Cuban Jam Sessions, a collection which included the tune “Fifty-Fifty,” arranged by Juanito Márquez.

The dramatic increase in Latin jazz’s popularity during this period was most directly connected with the activities of Chucho Valdés. After spending a considerable portion of each year in London while performing with Irakere in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Valdés began to spend more time in Cuba in the mid-1990s, where he lead a number of jazz trios, quartets and quintets. Beginning in 1995, he also undertook a number of trips to the United States, first to San Francisco and Los Angeles, then to Chicago. He also made several extended trips to New York. During these sojourns he performed as a soloist or as the leader of small ensembles, playing on college campuses and at music halls and jazz festivals, including the 1999 Hollywood Playboy Festival. He also recorded a number of highly acclaimed CDs during the period: Bele Bele en La Habana (1998), Briyumba Palo Congo (1999), and Live at the Village Vanguard (2000). In the midst of this barrage of Latin jazz recordings, thirty-seven years after Juanito Márquez produced Omara Portuondo’s debut as a soloist on the 1960 LP Magia Negra, Chucho closed a historic musical circle with his release of the CD Desafíos: Omara Portuondo y Chucho Valdés. On Desafíos, the pianist’s superb musicianship provided a deft and assured frame for Portuondo’s interpretation of classic Cuban boleros, including Juanito Márquez’s famed composition “Como un Milagro.”

Chucho Valdés’s impact on the evolution of Latin jazz in the 1990s equaled or surpassed the similar impact his band Irakere had on the genre’s development during the early 1970s. In Havana, the Latin jazz scene benefitted immensely from his international success, which gave the Havana Jazz Plaza festival a much needed boost in both visibility and attendance. Started in the late 1970s by several of Havana’s enterprising jazz enthusiasts and musicians, the Jazz Plaza festival had since experienced ups and downs as its promoters struggled to overcome tightening bureaucratic restrictions in the 1980s and, by the early 1990s, the severe economic crisis that almost paralyzed the island. Despite this, in keeping with the porous boundaries that have long characterized the Cuban music scene, the Havana festival has since its inception been notably successful in bringing together mainstream jazz and Latin jazz artists with fellow performers from local dance bands. The festival had also boasted a stellar record of invited performers. In 1989, drummer Max Roach gave a much anticipated concert; in 1990 Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McRae, and Charlie Haden also played the festival. In 1996, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and saxophonist Steve Coleman also participated in the event.

The Jazz Plaza festival’s visibility continued to increase in 1997, propelled by the brilliant performances of the young Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sánchez, Canadian flutist Jane Bunnet, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and some of Cuba’s best Latin jazz and dance band musicians: Chucho Valdés with a revamped Irakere, the guerrilla-timbero ensemble NG La Banda, flautist Orland “Maraca” Valle, and Javier Zalba and outstanding pianist Roberto Fonseca with their group Temperamento. The number of international groups participating in subsequent years continued to expand in both quantity and quality. The 1998 festival featured renowned artists Max Roach, Danilo Pérez, Michel Camilo, Steve Turre, David Sánchez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Roy Hargrove, Changuito, Tata Güines, Jane Bunnett, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Chano Domínguez, Chucho Valdés, Frank Emilio Flynn, the folkloric rumba ensemble Yoruba Andabo, and Giraldo Piloto’s timba band Klimax. The Jazz Plaza festival continued to attract numerous national and international ensembles until 2004, when the tightening of travel restrictions to Cuba by the United States caused a deep decline in participation by U.S.-based jazz musicians.

The broad currency of Latin jazz led to the organization of a major Latin jazz festival in Colombia. Starting in 1997, the Barranquijazz festival resembled the Havana Jazz Plaza event both in the large number of Cuban musicians invited every year and the participation of Cuban traditional and contemporary dance bands in the festival. Among the Cuban artists that participated in the first eight years of the festival were Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Roberto Fonseca, Javier Zalba, the entire Buena Vista Social Club ensemble, percussionist Tata Güines, Changuito, Francisco Aguabella, and timba vocalist Isaac Delgado. In the 2000 event, pianists Rubén González and Gonzalo Rubalcaba improvised on an electrifying four-handed version of “The Peanut Vendor,” deftly walking the fine line that separates the old from the new and Latin jazz from traditional Cuban music.

Among the younger Latin jazz musicians that came into prominence in Cuba in the mid-1990s, Gonzalo Rubalcaba merits special attention. A jazz piano virtuoso, Rubalcaba comes from a family with several generations of danzón musicians; he has also performed traditional Cuban dance music with the famed charanga Orquesta Aragón. After Dizzy Gillespie saw him in Cuba during a visit to the island in the late 1980s, the veteran Cubop trumpeter played a key role in the young pianist’s rise to international recognition. Acclaimed for his brilliant mastery of polyrhythms, Rubalcaba went on to demonstrate an introspective lyrical side in his 1998 CD, the aptly titled Inner Voyage. Another noteworthy Latin jazz artist is the technically superior flautist Orlando “Maraca” Valle, who joined Chucho Valdés’s Irakere orchestra in 1988. Valle also formed the group Otra Visión in 1994, played and recorded with veteran musicians Frank Emilio Flynn and Tata Güines, and performed with other young musicians, including Canadian saxophonist and flautist Jane Bunnet, who became interested in Afro-Cuban folkloric music after a trip to Santiago de Cuba in the late 1980s.

Among the many other brilliant young musicians that appeared later in this period are pianist Roberto Fonseca, who has divided his time between co-leading the Latin jazz ensemble Temperament and playing traditional Cuban son as the replacement for Rubén González in the BVSC ensemble. Another gifted young pianist, Rolando Luna performed Latin jazz as well as popular music piano during the 1990s, recording with powerhouse vocalist Haila Mompié, previously a lead singer with the sensational timba band Bamboleo.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the already dynamic conversation between tradition and innovation in Cuba music intensified, as the increased popularity of Latin jazz encouraged the renewed musical activity of some of the genre’s original founders. During this second golden age of Cuban music, a number of outstanding performers received belated recognition for their artistry. Of particular importance was the return to the limelight of elder jazz pioneers Mario Bauzá and Chico O’Farrill, each of whom recorded three new CDs in the 1990s and early 2000s before their deaths. The recordings by Bauzá and O’Farrill combined new compositions with reinterpretations of music they had composed in the mid-20th century. These newer recordings were unique not only because of their superior technical quality but also because they brought together emerging Latin jazz musicians with the genre’s pioneering artists.

On Bauzá’s1991 CD Tanga, the aging Cuban musician drew upon the talents of younger generations of jazz artists, including vocalist and composer Rudy Calzado and Paquito D’Rivera; on 1993’s My Time Is Now, Bauzá featured veteran vocalist Graciela, who had achieved a degree of local acclaim in the 1940s performing Chico O’Farrill’s jazz arrangements of Cuban boleros with the Machito orchestra. Fifty years later, Graciela’s renditions of Arsenio Rodríguez’s “La Vida es un Sueño,” “Así no Papá,” “Somos Novios” and “Al Fin” on My Time Is Now brought the artist long overdue acclaim. The recognition of Graciela’s role in transforming traditional bolero compositions into a favorite form for Latin jazz improvisation highlights the role of veteran artists in the ongoing creative labor through which Cuban music and jazz would become fused into an exciting new genre by the 1990s.

Other legendary Latin jazz musicians, including Bebo Valdés, Cachao, Al McKibbon, and Frank Emilio Flynn, similarly demonstrated their ability to creatively combine old and new musical styles during this period. Beginning with his 1995 release Bebo Rides Again, Valdés would record half a dozen CDs in the next ten years, performing to sold-out audiences at concerts and festivals throughout Europe. Following his starring role in Cuban American actor Andy García’s documentary Como su ritmo no hay dos, Cachao released his two-volume Masters Sessions, outstanding ensemble CDs of Afro-Cuban instrumental music again produced in close consultation with the acclaimed master Juanito Márquez. Al McKibbon released Tumbao para los Congueros de mi Vida, paying homage to all the great Cuban congueros he had recorded with over the years: Chano Pozo, Mongo Santamaría, Cándido, Armando Peraza, Francisco Aguabella, and Carlos “Patato” Valdés.

In Havana, the pianist and composer Frank Emilio Flynn returned to the spotlight after a period of relative obscurity. Well-known in the 1940s as the leader of the Loquibambia Swing Boys ensemble (featuring a young Omara Portuondo, later vocalist of the Buena Vista Social Club), Flynn released several new recordings in the 1990s featuring a diversity of musical styles including danzón and Cuban piano danzas. He also released two notable Latin jazz CDs, Barbarísimo in 1997 and Ancestral Reflections in 1999. Under the auspices of the leading American jazz musician and composer Wynton Marsalis, Flynn traveled to New York in 1998 and again in 2000, where he offered concerts at the Lincoln Center with his group Los Amigos.

Throughout the 1990s, the international music industry awarded Latin Jazz Grammys to a number of exemplary Cuban musicians. Chucho Valdés and Ray Hargrove received the award in 1997; in 1999, Al McKibbon’s Tumbao para los Congueros de mi Vida was also nominated. Recognition increased in 2000, when the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences instituted a separate award category for Latin music, including a new subcategory for Latin jazz. Cuban winners in this category between 2000 and 2005 included Paquito D’Rivera, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chucho Valdés, and Bebo Valdés. Chico O’Farrill and Omar Sosa were also nominated for awards in this category. In 2003, bassist Charlie Haden’s exceptional recording Nocturne, featuring Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, received the Latin Jazz Grammy.

During this exceptionally generative period of musical innovation, rising sales of Latin jazz recordings were accompanied by a surge in scholarship examining the origins and evolution of the genre. In 2003, prominent jazz musician Leonardo Acosta published Cubano Be, Cubano Bop,6 a pathbreaking classic of jazz history. Based on unprecedented research in Cuba, the author’s own experience, and interviews with leading artists, the book paid tribute not only to a distinguished lineage of Cuban musicians and composers but also to the rich musical exchanges between Cuban and American jazz throughout the 20th century.

Beginning with the first encounters between Cuban music and jazz around the turn of the last century, and concluding with a chapter on the latest currents in Cuba’s jazz scene at the start of the new millennium, Cubano Be, Cubano Bop remains an indispensable text on the history of jazz in Cuba and around the world. Further acknowledgment of the growing scholarly interest in Latin jazz during this period was provided by the Smithsonian Institution, which organized an ambitious traveling exhibit, entitled Latin Jazz: The Perfect Combination, which toured Washington, DC, New York City, and ten other U.S. cities between 2002 and 2006. The exhibit was accompanied by a book and CD of the same title, authored and curated by Cuban music historian Raúl A. Fernandez.

Un Montón de Estrellas: Polo Montañez and the Rebirth of Música Guajira

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, música guajira has continued to play a vibrant role in Cuban popular culture, most visibly through the television program Palmas y Cañas, one of the longest running shows on Cuba TV. In the late 1980s, the genre’s popularity increased with the appearance of a young performer, Albita Rodríguez, on the local music scene. By the 1990s, Albita’s stylish interpretations of guajira classics had achieved national and international visibility. But the dramatic rise of música guajira during Cuba’s second musical golden age can best be understood by examining the phenomenon surrounding the music of one of Cuba’s most beloved artists: Polo Montañez.

The rise of Polo Montañez to international fame during the late 1990s was linked, as were the explosions in popularity of other styles of Cuban music, to circumstances created by the Special Period. As the Cuban economy recalibrated following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a strategic new focus on the promotion of tourism led to the expanded construction and refurbishment of hotels and resorts aimed at capturing an expanding tourist trade. In order to attract more foreign visitors, a growing number of facilities began to employ local musicians to perform traditional music for the entertainment of their guests. By the end of the decade, grupitos of between three and five musicians playing traditional Cuban songs on guitar, bongó and campana, clave, maracas, and guiro—an occasional larger ensemble added congas, timbales, or trumpet—became a ubiquitous presence at tourist destinations throughout the island.

Fernando Borrego, a farm laborer and self-taught country musician from Cuba’s rural western province of Pinar del Río, was one such artist. Under the stage name Polo Montañez, he led a small grupito that began performing in 1994 at the Hotel Moca, located in the Las Terrazas nature reserve about an hour to the west of Havana. In 1999, Montañez was discovered by José da Silva, a French music producer on vacation at the resort. Hoping to cash in on the rising popularity of Cuban traditional music sparked by the Buena Vista Social Club albums and documentary, da Silva signed the hotel performer to his recording label Lusafrika. Montañez’s rise in popularity was meteoric. Between 1999 and 2002, he released two CDs, Guajiro Natural and Guitarra Mía, with a number of songs that quickly became national and international hits. One of the original compositions featured on his first album, “Un Montón de Estrellas,” has been added to the ranks of the all-time most popular Cuban songs. Its sustained popularity with a broad international audience led Puerto Rican salsa singer Gilberto Santa Rosa to record a soulful dance version of the guajiro ballad on his 2002 album Viceversa.

Montañez’s technical skills and experience as a performer perhaps did not compare with those of the veteran Cuban artists who were simultaneously propelling the genres of timba, son cubano, and Latin jazz to ever-higher heights of global popularity. He was nonetheless a talented musician with a gift for composing emotionally compelling songs. Moreover, música guajira as performed by Montañez reflected his unique personal interpretation of the style. While the artist acknowledged his musical foundations in the Cuban son tradition, because of a long-term appreciation in Cuban rural areas for Mexican music, where recordings of corridos, rancheras, and mariachi ensembles have long circulated, it is perhaps unsurprising that Montañez’s melodies are seasoned with a subtle but distinctly Mexican flavor. Montañez also acknowledged his artistic debt to the preeminent Dominican singer and songwriter Juan Luis Guerra, whispers of whose own lyrical country ballads are clearly detectable in both Montañez’s characteristic intonation and his bachata-inspired lyrics. In live performances, the Cuban artist further distinguished himself with his relaxed stage persona, his ability to connect with the audience, and for his gracia, or wit, which included a facility for improvising new lyrics on themes shouted out by the public.

In the three years before his untimely death in a 2002 car accident, Montañez performed abroad extensively, performing in several countries, including Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Mexico. On a multi-city tour of Colombia, where Guajiro Natural had achieved platinum status, he shared the stage in Bogotá with Cesara Evoria, one of Lusafrika’s most renowned performers. He also toured widely in Europe, visiting France, Portugal, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium, where he appeared in concert with panameño salsa icon Rubén Blades. By this time, Polo Montañez had also become a nationwide sensation, filling plazas and stadiums for concerts in every one of the island’s major cities in the year of his death. Montañez’s name is still instantly recognized by Cubans across age groups, occupations, and regional, class and racial identities, and his music continues to enjoy a universal appreciation across the island, throughout Latin America, and among Spanish and non-Spanish speaking audiences around the world.7

Rap Cubano and Música Folklórica

During the 1990s and into the first years of the new millennium, concurrent to the explosion of musical creativity expressed by artists composing and performing timba and Latin jazz, música guajira and son cubano, other genres of music also flourished. Responding to the growing mainstream appeal of American hip-hop culture, rap cubano sent shockwaves through the island’s popular culture with the appearance of local groups including Anónimo Consejo, Free Hole Negro, Doble Filo, Instinto, SBS, Madera Dura and Obsesión. Following the success of the Paris-based Cuban rap group Orishas, rap stylings and lyrics also began to appear in performances by Cuban musical standard-bearers in the genres of Latin jazz and especially timba, including Irakere, NG La Banda, Los Van Van, and Manolito y su Trabuco. At the same time the style grew on its own. Rap’s new popularity attracted an influx of American and European hip-hop artists, filmmakers, scholars, and activists to the island, which led to the subsequent production of an explosion of doctoral theses, scholarly books, and documentary films speculating on the potential impact of rap as a social and political force in post-Soviet-era Cuba. Rap in Cuba also received a great deal of attention from the state, where government cultural institutions played an active role in organizing rap concerts and festivals and in regulating the recording and promotion of the genre’s artists.8

A simultaneous, albeit more limited, boom also propelled Cuba’s folkloric and religious musical traditions to greater national and international acclaim. Beginning in the 1990s, rumba groups like Yoruba Andabo, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, and Los Papines were prominently featured in national and international concerts and festivals. Cuba’s Ballet Folklórico Nacional also traveled abroad frequently, and foreigners flocked to Cuba to learn, study, and often adopt the Afro-Cuban Regla de Ocha religion known popularly as Santería. Numerous CDs and video recordings of sacred music, performed by Cuban and foreign ensembles, were released locally and overseas. During this period of increased religious tolerance on the island, spiritual sentiments, and particularly Afro-Cuban spirituality, also became pervasive in the compositions and performances of leading Latin jazz, timba, and música guajira artists. It also played a prominent role in the street-infused vernacular of the young artists performing rap cubano.

The new prominence of religion in Cuban music was partially due to the prevalence of Afro-Cuban and syncretic religious beliefs among artist themselves. It was also a product of the numerous links between musicians working in the seemingly unconnected genres of popular and sacred music. To list but a few examples of this: rumbero Baldomero Ricardo Cané of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas was the nephew of Humberto Cané, tresero with the internationally acclaimed Sonora Matancera in the 1940s, and guitarist Papi Oviedo is a close relative of Alberto Villareal, chief batalero for the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional.

Although the emergence of música folklorica and rap cubano during the 1990s represented another facet of the rich musical diversity of the island’s second golden age, Cuban rap and folkloric music never became mass phenomena. The dramatic increase in public devotion to Santería during the Special Period undoubtedly played an important role in bringing to international attention the idioms of Afro-Cuban music and spirituality that have long occupied a prominent place in the island’s popular culture. Despite this “discovery” of Afro-Cuban religious music by an international audience, and notwithstanding the continuing vibrancy of this musical tradition on the island, most nonreligious Cubans’ knowledge of the songs and dances through which adherents of the Regla de Ocha practice their faith remains superficial. Similarly, despite keen interest by international intellectuals and artists, Cuban rap concerts rarely succeeded in attracting domestic crowds of more than a few thousand youth, even at the height of the genre’s popularity in the late 1990s.

Moreover, most local young people were equally or more enthusiastic about other emerging music trends on the island, including minor “booms” in novísima trova and rock-en-español as performed by local groups like Moneda Dura, Buena Fé, and Aceituna Sin Hueso.9 Without taking away from the originality and artistry of Cuban artists performing rock, rap, and new iterations of the trova sound during this period, it remains indisputable that their appeal and impact paled in comparison with timba bands like Los Van Van and La Charanga Habanera, jazz giants like Chucho Valdés, veteran soneros like Compay Segundo, and the beloved guajiro natural Polo Montañez, all of whom were capable of attracting hundreds of thousands of devoted Cuban fans—indeed, sometimes drawing crowds of up to one million—to concerts on Havana’s Malecón.

Between 1989 and 2005, the exceptional musical productivity and creativity of Cuban artists ushered in a second golden age of Cuban popular music. At first glance (or listen), the styles that reached prominence during this fifteen-year period may appear as distinct from one another as they were from the music of Cuba’s first golden age in the 1940. In this case, as in many others, appearances are deceiving. In fact, as timbero mayor José Luís “El Tosco” Cortés has observed, “When you hear a Cuban dance band, you might hear four or five traditions.”10 A deeper examination of the processes of production underlying the exciting new sounds of timba and Latin jazz, the Buena Vista Social Club–styled reinvention of the son cubano, and Polo Montañez’s lyrical take on the island’s traditional música guajira, confirm Cortés’s observation about the deeply rooted linkages that connect these seemingly disparate styles of music to one another. Dynamically poised between the forces of tradition and innovation, and beloved by both local and global audiences, the artists who rose to prominence or were rediscovered during the Special Period and the first years of the new millennium each spoke, in their own unique ways, to the innovation, the cross-genre collaborations, and above all, to the profound historical continuities that have long animated the island’s extraordinary musical culture.

Discussion of the Literature

Beginning in the 1990s, a number of studies have attempted to account for the dramatic upsurge in creativity and productivity that reinvigorated the island’s music scene. Given the remarkable diversity of musical genres that flourished anew (or for the first time) during this period, it is perhaps unsurprising that scholars have tended to focus their analysis on the emergence or evolution of individual musical styles during the period, or have counterposed contemporary musical styles against one another, such as timba versus the sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club, or traditional music played outside of Cuba versus domestically performed variants.11 These studies have also tended to link the evolution of Cuban popular music—sometimes in overly deterministic ways—to processes of revolutionary political change, attributing particular importance to the unprecedented conditions of the Special Period, a time of momentous political, economic and social change in Cuba that began after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Frequently focusing on the analysis of song lyrics or the broader politics of music consumption, scholars have often failed to link innovations in one genre to past or present developments in others.12 But a more comprehensive and artist-centered comparative analysis, focused on the processes of music production, reveals that this second golden age was characterized as much by cross-genre collaboration and continuities with earlier trends in Cuban music and musical culture as by the unprecedented circumstances of the Special Period or the seeming newness or singularity of the music being produced.

For example, although it is reasonable to conclude that timba’s powerful beat and overt sexuality resonated strongly with the Cuban youth in the 1990s and that timberos chose lyrics, costumes, and performance styles that satisfied the expectations of their youthful fans, the timba explosion was nonetheless much more than a simple reflection of difficult economic conditions. A closer reading reveals the genre’s intricate musical structure and wide variety of expressions and its solid grounding in a constant interplay between continuity and change and the interface between local and global musical trends that has long characterized Cuban popular music. The same can be said about the BVSC phenomenon, belittled reductively by some as a nostalgic event, contrasting it with the excitement of timba, characterized as a fresh, original, and contemporary music genre. Just as timba had its roots in the past, the BVSC phenomenon was equally a product of the circumstances of its time, representing a revival of interest, especially overseas, in a style of music that had never stopped being played in Cuba.13 Perhaps the clearest example is the increased popularity of Latin jazz, which is difficult to explain by the economic circumstances, but rather reflects the result of decades of gradual increase in interest in this form. And while the rise of Polo Montañez and música guajira to international fame during the late 1990s was linked in part to circumstances created by the Special Period, the revival of the genre cannot be divorced from the continued, spirited, and lively role that música guajira continued to play in Cuban popular culture, through radio, television, and live performances which had already reached an earlier peak in the late 1980s with the appearance of Albita Rodríguez in national and international venues.


In memory of Katherine Hagedorn

Primary Sources

The empirical foundation of this article draws upon fieldwork, observation, and interviews with the following Cuban musicians, composers and musicologists, conducted during the period between 1989 and 2005, in Cuba, the United States, Canada, Japan, Spain, France, Puerto Rico, and Colombia: Los Van Van, NG La Banda, Isaac Delgado, Buena Vista Social Club and the Afro Cuban All Stars, Vocal Sampling, Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Frank Emilio Flynn, Temperamento, Bamboleo, Lucrecia, Ballet Folklórico Nacional, Septeto Santiguero, Orquesta Aragón, Septeto Nacional, Cubanismo, Grupo Manguaré, Cachao, Aceituna Sin Hueso, Orishas, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Albita Rodríguez, Paquito D’Rivera, La Sierra Maestra, Arturo Sandoval, Síntesis, Amadito Valdés, Orlanda “Maraca” Valle, Luis Valle, Juan de Marcos González, Omar Sosa, Bebo Valdés, Juanito Márquez, Pablo Menéndez, Javier Zalba, Al McKibbon, Carlos del Puerto, Radamés Giro, Leonardo Acosta, Rafael Lam, Helio Orovio, Roberto Zurbano, Adriana Orejuela, Rosa Marquetti, Katherine Hagedorn, Danilo Lozano, Ibrahim Ferrer, Tata Güines, Humberto Cané, Orlando López “Mazacote,” Richard Egües, Celina González, Enrique Bonne, Rodulfo Vaillant, Luis Carbonell, Francisco Aguabella, Chico O’Farrill, Chocolate Armenteros, Armando Peraza, Mongo Santamaría, Celia Cruz, Pedrito Calvo, X-Alfonso, Carlos Averoff, and Rafael Bassi.

Recorded interviews with Richard Egües, Tata Güines, Celina González, Enrique Bonne, Rodulfo Vaillant, Luis Carbonell, Francisco Aguabella, Chico O’Farrill, Chocolate Armenteros, Armando Peraza, Mongo Santamaría, Celia, Cruz, Chucho Valdés, Frank Emilio Flynn, Cachao, Bebo Valdés, Al McKibbon, Carlos del Puerto, and Leonardo Acostaare available to researchers at the National Museum of American History, where they are archived in the Jazz and Latino Oral History Program. Recorded interviews with Humberto Cané, Juanito Márquez, Carlos Averoff, and Orlando López are housed in Professor Raúl Fernandez’s private archives in Irvine, California.

Further Reading

  • Acosta, Leonardo. Cubano Be, Cubano Bop: One Hundred Years of Jazz in Cuba. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.
  • Acosta, Leonardo. “Buena Vista Social Club y el Fenómeno de la popularidad.” In Otra vision de la música popular cubana, ed. Leonardo Acosta, 152–162. Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2004.
  • Acosta, Leonardo. “La Timba y sus Antecedentes en la Música Bailable Cubana.” In Otra Visión de la Música Popular Cubana, ed. Leonardo Acosta, 144–151. Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2004.
  • Baker, Geoffrey. Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.
  • Bodenheimer, Rebecca M. Geographies of Cubanidad. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2015.
  • Casavantes Bradford, Anita. “Cuban Americans and their Folklore.” In Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions, ed. Maria Herrera-Sobek, 381–396. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011.
  • Castellanos, Ernesto Juan. “Roll Over Formell.” Revolución y Cultura 2 (2003): 14–16.
  • Fairley, Jan. “‘Ay Dios, Amparame’ (‘O God, Protect Me’): Music in Cuba during the 1990s, the ‘Special Period’ (2004).” In Living Politics, Making Music: The Writings of Jan Fairley, ed. Simon Frith, Stan Rijven, and Ian Christie, 117–132. Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate, 2014.
  • Fernandes, Sujatha. Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
  • Fernández, Raúl A. From Afro-Cuban Rhythms to Latin Jazz. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Fernández, Raúl A.Juanito, sencillamente.” Descarga Archives, September 29, 2008.
  • Giro, Radamés. Diccionario Enciclopédico de la música cubana. Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2007.
  • Hernandez, Tanya Kateri. “The Buena Vista Social Club.” In Latino/a Popular Culture, ed. Michelle Habell-Payán and Mary Romero, 62–72. New York: New York University Press, 2002.
  • Lapidus, Benjamin. Changüí: Origins of Cuban Music and Dance. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2008.
  • Manduley, Humberto. El Rock en Cuba. Havana: Atril Ediciones Musicales, 2001.
  • Moore, Robin. Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Pacini Hernandez, Deborah, and Reebee Garofalo. “Hip Hop in Havana: Rap, Race and National Identity in Contemporary Cuba.” Journal of Popular Music Studies 11–12.1 (1999–2000): 18–47.
  • Perna, Vincenzo. Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005.
  • Sublette, Ned. Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2004.


  • 1. Gary Domínguez, “Giraldo Piloto: El Baterista Poeta,” Latin Beat 8.5 (June/July 1989): 28.

  • 2. Vincenzo Perna, Timba: Sound of the Cuban Crisis (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005).

  • 3. Emir Garcia Meralla, “Entrevista con José Luis Cortés: el decálogo Cortés,” La Jiribilla, Año VI, 5 al 11 de ABRIL, 2008, La Habana. Original translation by Raúl Fernandez.

  • 4. Luis Lafitee, “Rudy Calzado: Afro Legend,” Latin Beat 2.6 (August 1992): 26–28.

  • 5. Mary Kent, Salsa Talks: A Musical Heritage Uncovered (Altamonte Springs, FL: Digital Domain, 2005), 122–136.

  • 6. Leonardo Acosta, Cubano Be, Cubano Bop: One Hundred Years of Jazz in Cuba (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003).

  • 7. “Un Guajiro Natural,” Juventud Rebelde, September 16, 2006, 9; “Polo Montañez: Un Guajiro Natural,” Bohemia, February 22, 2002, 4–7.

  • 8. Grizel Hernández Baguer, “Rapeando … A Lo Cubano?” Revista CLAVE 1.2 (October–December 1999): 46–49.

  • 9. Grethel Morel, “Con Buena FE y sin Prejuicios,” Revista Salsa Cubana 6.19 (2002): 20–22; Ileana Rodríguez, “Nuevas Caras para una MONEDA,” Revista Salsa Cubana 6.19 (2002): 28–32.

  • 10. Tom Moon, “Time-Honored Tradition,” Jazziz 15.1 (January 1998): 3.

  • 11. Tanya Kateri Hernandez, “The Buena Vista Social Club,” in Latino/a Popular Culture, ed. Michelle Habell-Payán and Mary Romero (New York: New York University Press, 2002), 62–72; Robert Neustad, “Buena Vista Social Club vs. La Charanga Habanera: The Politics of Cuban Rhythm,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 14.2 (2002): 139–162; Vincenzo Perna, Timba: The Sound of the Cuban Crisis (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005).

  • 12. Geoffrey Baker, Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Sujatha Fernandes, Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); Robin Moore, Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

  • 13. Leonardo Acosta, “Buena Vista Social Club y el Fenómeno de la Popularidad,” in Otra vision de la Música Popular Cubana, ed. Leonardo Acosta (Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2004), 152–162.