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Music

Danzón

Warm Cuban nights possess a transformational essence about them. Sooner or later, one way or another, their magical way seems to spark transformation. So it was with one of Cuba’s most popular music categories: the Danzón. In the late 1700’s, after the bloody Haitian revolution, many Haitians and French colonists fled to Cuba. With them came the Contradanza – their European-based popular dance music. Once exposed to Cuba’s natural seductive ways, the Contradanza evolved into Danza, out of which the Danzón was born where it continues to rein as one of the two major categories of popular Cuban music – the Son being the other. Although the Danzón has developed and changed in many respects since the late nineteenth century, much of the original structure remains; making the Danzón a truly unique, living Cuban art form. In 1879, when Miguel Failde Perez breathed life into the Danzón, he composed an Introduction (four bars) and Paseo (four bars), which are repeated and followed by a 16-bar melody. The dancers do not dance during these sections: they choose partners, stroll onto the dance floor, and begin to dance at precisely the same moment: the fourth beat of bar four of the Paseo, which has a very distinctive percussion pattern that’s hard to miss. When the introduction is repeated the dancers stop, chat, flirt, greet their friends, and start again, right on time as the Paseo finishes.

The music of Cuba is largely based on its cultural origins in Europe and Africa. The arrival on the island of thousands of African slaves over the course of three hundred years created a wealth of new musical forms. Deeply rooted in African rhythms, the country’s distinctive music owes its melodic power to its Spanish colonial heritage. The lively, energetic Cuban sound has profoundly influenced musical styles throughout the world, an impact that continues to this day. Distinct dance forms, related to specific types of music, over time have cross-pollinated, evolving into new styles of expression.