This article is part 2 of a 3 part series. Here is Cuban Music History, Part 1.
The 20th century brought about major changes for Cuba as a country. And its revolution would have effects worldwide, but the music played on, and would make its mark in the years before and after the revolution.
The late 1800s/beginning of the 1900s saw the birth of “Son Cubano” a combination of music and dance that would eventually become one of the most influential forms of Latin Music.
Son – Spanish for “rhythm” – combines Spanish lyrical styling with Afro-Cuban flavor and percussive instruments. It was one of the most popular forms of music in the country by the 1920s, and by the 1930s would earn popularity worldwide.
Cuban radio hit the airwaves in 1922, and for the first time, bands could be broadcast live across the country. In 1930, the country saw another major music milestone: the first time a recording of Cuban music sold one million copies. The song? El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor) sang by Antonio Manchin.
As the story goes, a New York Music producer was visiting the Havana Casino in 1929 when he liked what he heard from Orchestra Leader Don Azpiazu. He invited him to the states, where the producer’s favorite song, “El Manisero” (featuring singer Antonio Manchin), was recorded and released. It was an instant hit, and introduced Cuban music to the United States. The song would also be the first Cuban release in Europe.
Music was a major cultural export for the island country; and not just its sound, but the sight of it as well. Son – as well as Danzon and Rumba – were born out of a marriage in the early 20th century between Afro Cuban music and English and French-style dance music, giving it its groove.
In the 1930s, mambo was born. Dancers were feeling the music and letting their interpretations guide their steps. “Mambo” by Israel López Valdé “Cachao”
has often been referred to as the mother of all mambos, which would seem appropriate, as many credit Cachao and his brother for introducing mambo to Havana.
Cachao was also renown for his talents when it came to descarga or improvised Cuban jam sessions, the art of which revolutionized Afro-Cuban music.
Perhaps one of the most popular musicians to come out of 20th century Cuba and likely one of the most recognized composers was Ernesto Leucuona. The pianist composed over 600 pieces, including the Oscar-nominated “Always in My Heart.”
Many of his songs became Latin standards, and in the late 1930s he set off a congo craze in the US with his hit “Ay Si, Ay No.”
By the 1940s, Cuban Son was a part of the main-stream popular music not only in the Caribbean, but in North and South America too.
During that same time period, big band music arrived in the country, and musicians began improvising jazz-like with Afro-Cuban rhythms. A sign of things to come.
Meanwhile, the upheaval that the country’s government was experiencing was about to have a profound effect on its music. The Cuban Music Revolution had been heard around the world…but the armed revolt was just beginning.