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Despite its African resonance, mambo actually traces its roots back to the European-inspired Danzón. The sound derives its name from a composition by Orestes López in 1938. With the addition of brassy energy from the big bands of the 1940s, Danzón transformed into mambo bands and a new dance sensation spread around the world. Of course, no one could dance the Mambo quite like the Cubans could, and the international version pales compared to the original to this day. The undisputed ‘mambo king’ was Benny Moré (1919-1963), whose birthplace in Santa Isabel de las Lajas in Cienfuegos province, is the home of the annual Benny Moré International Music Festival.

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.