Abakuá — Afro-Cuban secret male society derived from those prevalent in West Africa’s Calabar region (southeastern Nigeria and western Cameroon). Also known as the ñáñigo.
Barrio — In Spanish, neighborhood or community. In American English, it refers to enclaves or districts in U.S. cities where Latino immigrants tend to predominate.
Batá drums — A set of three sacred, double-headed drums used in santería ceremonies.
Bolero — A dance and vocal genre that originated in Santiago de Cuba in the last third of the 1800s. The slowest of the Cuban dance rhythms, the bolero developed into Latin America’s most popular romantic song style in the 1900s.
Bomba — (1) Afro-Puerto Rican music and dance often found in salsa and Latin jazz. (2) The name of the drums (similar to the conga drum) used in it.
Bongo — Two connected single-headed small drums that are played with the hands while held between the knees. The bongo was developed in Eastern Cuba from African predecessors.
Bossa Nova — A Brazilian genre originating from the fusion of Brazilian styles such as the samba and the samba-canção with elements of Western classical music and jazz.
Bugalú — A fusion of Afro-Cuban dance music with African-American styles developed by Puerto Rican musicians in New York City in the late 1960s.
Cabildos — Mutual aid organizations for enslaved Africans in Cuba, first established in the 1500s. These fraternal organizations, which evolved into social clubs by the 1800s, helped preserve religious practices, music, and dance of the Lucumí, Carabalí, Arará, and Kongo peoples.
Cencerro — A cowbell (with the clapper removed), struck with a wooden stick. Also called campana.
Cha-cha-cha — Dance music popularized in Cuba in the early 1950s that developed out of the danzón, danzonete, and son. It was performed primarily by charanga ensembles.
Changüí — A form of the son from Eastern Cuba, primarily the Guantánamo region.
Charanga — A specific Cuban instrumental format, consisting of rhythm section (contrabass, timbales, and güiro), strings (from two to four violins, or any number of violins with a cello), and one wood flute. The piano was added early in the 1900s and the conga drums in the early 1940s.
Cinquillo — A Caribbean rhythm used in the music of Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad. Its five-note pattern (thus the Spanish name cinquillo after cinco, or five) is the characteristic rhythm of the danzón.
Clave — A five-note, bi-measure pattern that serves as the rhythmic foundation for much of Cuban music, salsa, and Latin jazz. Despite many variations, the most common 3-2 pattern is usually called the son clave or simply the clave.
Claves — Two round, polished sticks used to play clave patterns.
Conga — (1) A single-headed, medium-pitched, barrel-shaped drum featured in Cuban music, salsa, and Latin jazz. (2) A ballroom dance developed in Europe and the United States in the late 1930s which incorporated a simplified version of the comparsa, or street conga dancing, from Cuban carnivals.
Conjunto — A specific instrumental format of Cuban music developed around 1940, which is derived from earlier ensembles and usually consists of piano, guitar (sometimes), tres, contrabass, bongos, congas, one or more vocalists (who play hand percussion such as maracas and claves), and two to four trumpets.
Contradanza/Danza: A 19th-century ballroom dance genre derived from the English country dance and the courtly French contredanse. The contradanza used the cinquillo rhythm and led to the very similar pan-Caribbean danza.
Coro — A passage featuring the call-and-response interplay between a lead singer and back-up singers (also called the coro, or chorus). In Cuban music and salsa, this takes place during the section called the montuno.
Cuatro — One of the many variations of the guitar found throughout Spain and Latin America. The Puerto Rican variant is the major instrument in the commonwealth’s peasant or jíbaro music.
Cuica — Small Brazilian friction drum with a stick fastened to the inside of the drumhead which is rubbed to produce a sound.
Danzón — A Cuban musical and dance form developed in the 1800s from the contradanza and the danza which is both longer and slower than its predecessors.
Descarga — A jam session in Cuban music, salsa, and Latin jazz during which musicians take turns improvising and soloing.
Filin (feeling) — A vocal style introduced in Cuba in the mid-1940s. Influenced by U.S. jazz, its practitioners used more complex harmonies than the traditional bolero and established a new, deeply sentimental way of phrasing and interpreting songs.
Guaguancó — One of the three main styles of the Cuban rumba, featuring a heightened polyrhythmic structure, and danced by male-female couples (in its traditional folkloric setting).
Guaracha — An Afro-Cuban genre of vocal (and often dance) music which developed in the 1800s. In this century guarachas have merged with the son, but are faster in tempo and incorporate bawdy or satirical lyrics.
Güícharo — Another term for the güiro, its Puerto Rican variant, with normally thinner grooves that those of a Cuban güiro.
Güira — A metal güiro used to play merengue music as well as changüí.
Güiro — A serrated gourd, or calabash, scraped with a stick.
Guajeo — A repeated figure played by instruments in various ensembles (e.g. the piano in a conjunto), usually during the montuno section.
Habanera — A vocal and dance genre derived in Cuba from the contradanza.
Influencia — A style of the Cuban son in which blues chords are added.
Jazzband — In Cuba, the term “jazzband” referred to instrumental formats who played music using instruments of American jazz bands, but did not necessarily play jazz.
Lucumí — Name given in Cuba to Yoruba or Yoruba-related traditions, customs, religions, and language.
Mambo — (1) An up-tempo dance style, developed through the 1940s and ’50s, that blends several elements of North American instrumentation and harmony with elements of the son and other Cuban genres. (2) The section added in the 1940s to the danzón form that featured a call-response pattern between instruments as well as improvisation.
Maracas — Hand-held rattles or shakers, made from gourds, coconuts, wood, or rawhide, and filled with beans, seeds, or similar objects.
Marímbula — An African-derived instrument used to provide a bass accompaniment in some early conjuntos de son. Marímbulas are constructed from large box resonators with a hole cut in them, allowing sound to escape. Steel metal strips are fastened near the opening. Marímbula players sit on the box and pluck the metal strips, which have been tuned to particular pitches.
Martillo — A repeated rhythmic pattern on the bongos.
Merengue — A fast dance style from the Dominican Republic, usually played on tambora, güira, accordion, and saxophone.
Montuno — The final section of a son composition, characterized by a cyclic formal structure, prominent improvisation, and call-and-response interaction between a chorus and a vocal or instrumental soloist.
Pachanga — A rhythmic style and vigorous dance very popular during the 1950s, which originated in the charanga instrumentation.
Paila — A term for a smaller version of the Cuban timbales.
Palo Monte — A Cuban religion with roots in Central Africa’s Congo River Basin.
Pandereta — A hand-held drum like a tambourine (often in a set of two or three but without jingles) characteristic of Puerto Rico’s plena style.
Plena — An Afro-Puerto Rican rhythm and vocal genre traditionally played with panderetas with lyrics containing humor, satire, and social commentary.
Pregón — The musical cries of street vendors used to attract customers, a tradition that comes from Spain and is found throughout Latin America. Beginning in the 1920s, lyrics patterned after the pregón began to appear in sons and other dance music in Cuba, the most famous being “El Manisero” (“The Peanut Vendor”).
Quinto — The highest-pitched drum in a set of three drums used in the styles of rumba. The quinto improvises on top of patterns laid out by the other drums.
Rhumba — Name given in the U.S. to the Cuban son and other Cuban musical styles beginning in the 1930s. Sometimes spelled rumba, it is not to be confused with the Cuban rumba.
Rumba — A heavily African-influenced form of secular entertainment unique to Cuba. A complex and highly improvisatory form involving song, dance, and performance on various percussion instruments, traditional rumba developed in the mid-1800s in the provinces of Havana and Matanzas. Many sub-genres and regional variants exist.
Salsa — A musical style that developed primarily in New York City and other urban centers in Colombia, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico in the early 1970s. Its rhythmic foundations stem from Cuban music genres, such as son, mambo, and rumba. It also incorporates particular timbric approaches and other elements from Latin American genres from Puerto Rico, Panama, etc., as well as articulations on melody instruments closer to jazz and U.S. music genres.
Santería — The popular name for the Afro-Cuban polytheistic religious tradition that, during the almost four centuries of the slave trade in Cuba, gradually developed by the end of the 19th century into a series of religious practices born of mostly West African and some Spanish Catholic roots. It is more formally known as the Regla de Ocha (the law of the orichas) and focuses on the worship of deities known as orichas or santos (thus santería.)
Sexteto — A type of musical ensemble which emerged in the 1920s, featuring a guitar, tres, marímbula, bongó, maracas, and claves.
Shekere — A large dried gourd with a loose-fitting net of beads that strikes against the gourd when shaken. The present form of the shekere evolved in Cuba from African predecessors.
Son — A highly syncretic genre of dance music created by musicians in Eastern Cuba towards the end of the 1800s. In terms of its form, lyrical content, and instrumentation, the son reflects the fusion of African and European elements. Since first achieving national recognition in the 1920s, the son has become a powerful symbol of Afro-Hispanic cultural fusion and of Cuban nationalism.
Sonero — A vocalist, or any musician, who is a practitioner of the stylistic elements of the Cuban son, which includes the ability to improvises rhythmically, melodically, and verbally against the refrain of the coro.
Songo — A contemporary, eclectic rhythm that blends several styles, including rumba, son, conga and other Cuban secular as well as sacred styles, with elements of North American jazz and funk.
Syncopation — A shifting of a normal musical accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats.
Tambora — A two-headed drum from the Dominican Republic, played with hands and a stick and central to the merengue.
Timba — Contemporary Cuban dance music that fuses son and rumba with funk and rap music.
Timbales — Two round metal single-headed drums similar in shape to the snare drum and played with sticks both on the head or on the shell, or cáscara. Timbales first gained popularity in danzón orchestras (substituting for the timpani).
Tres — A Cuban stringed instrument consisting of three double strings and played with a pick. The tres is a signature instrument of the Cuban son.
Tumbadora — The Cuban name for the conga drum.
Tumba francesa — A style of music, as well as the name of the drums used in it, developed in Eastern Cuba by Franco-Haitian immigrants who left Haiti after the Haitian revolution in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Tumbao — A repeated pattern played on the conga drum.
Yoruba — Name given in the early 1900s to a group of related ethnic groups from Southwestern Nigeria, including Iyesá, Oyo, Ijebu, and Egba. These ethnic groups were some of the most influential cultures throughout the Caribbean and Brazil.