The tumbao in Cuban music

Feb 11, 2020


There is a lot to talk about Cuban music. From the different rhythms, instruments and their particular history to the mastery of their most prestigious representatives at an international level.

One of the concepts most used when mentioning the national sonorities is that of tumbao, which, in most cases, leaves the inexperienced in the matter with doubts about its meaning. What is tumbao? and what is its role in Cuban music?

The tumbao: expression of sensuality

It is not difficult to find in Cuban music expressions that include the word tumbao, such is the case of the famous phrase “la negra tiene tumbao” by the famous Celia Cruz.

The tumbao has its origin in music, although sometimes the word can be used to refer to the sensuality with which a woman walks, for example. As part of Afro-Cuban music is the base rhythm that is played in the bass guitar and forms the well-known Cuban rumba and all the sounds that derive from it. The name salsa, mambo and Latin jazz, are nourished by this peculiar rhythm through instruments like the three and the bass.

The main point of the tumbao is the feeling. The tumbao allows the dancers to feel the music like never before, beyond the simple rhythms is transmitted the feeling through the composition, a characteristic typical of our national music.

Genres such as timba, rock, funk and conga have benefited from the different key arrangements that have been introduced to tumbao over the years, with Arsenio Rodríguez being one of the most important when introducing drums (congas) in Cuban dance orchestras.

The Cuban timba: the tumbao in the national rhythms

The timba can be denominated like one of the Cuban rhythms that contribute more to the popular music of the island. With its base on instruments such as drums, piano, bass, trumpet, maracas, bongó, pailas or güiro, timba is a product of fusion music created by famous bands like NG La Banda, under the direction of José Luis Cortés “el Tosco”; and Van Van with the prestigious Juan Formell, who managed to take this pace to the most prestigious world stage.

The tumbao in timba combines different techniques of funk, jazz and the most autochthonous Cuban musical genres to form a rhythm that, since the 90’s, has developed greatly and has remained as primordial within the musical history of the island. Groups such as the popular Charanga Habanera, under the direction of David Calzado, have continued and renewed the legacy of timba in our days.

When talking about dance music in Cuba it is impossible not to mention the tumbao, whose concept is so ingrained that it transcends the boundaries of music to blend, in addition, in the recesses of the life of each Cuban.

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