Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
One of Cuba's main popular music and dance forms, a fusion of African and Spanish-derived elements. Began in rural Oriente province in late 19th century, brought to Havana early 1900s and spread through the working class, incorporating African-derived elements such as rumba and Spanish-descended such as the guajira (a rural form, often with nostalgic lyrics), by the '20s appealing to Cubans at all levels. Spread to Puerto Rico '30s, whence migration took it to the USA (though by then it was a ballroom fad which Americans called the rumba or rhumba). Three bands represented development of son in Cuba: by mid-'20s Septeto Habanero (descended from Cuarteto Oriental and Los Apaches, founded as Sexteto Habanero in Havana '20; became Septeto Habanero c'27 with addition of a cornet, later replaced by trumpet) had established basic son septet format of guitar, tres (similar to a guitar, with six or nine strings), trumpet, bass, bongo, claves (sticks struck together) played by a sonero (improvising lead singer), maracas played by second vocalist; by late '20s Septeto Nacional, formed originally as a sextet '27 by composer/bassist/leader Ignacio Pi¤eiro (1888--1969), used tighter harmonies with more melodic range, faster tempo, more trumpet ornamentation but less rhythmic improvisation and complexity; then by '40 Arsenio Rodriguez brought in more directly African styles that had until then been only an influence, particularly the guaguanco style of rumba, adding more trumpets, piano, conga and cowbell, and incorporating tumbao (repeated, interlocking rhythms played by bass and conga). The montuno section was redefined for vocal and instrumental solos with rhythmic backing, in form known as son montuno. Compilations incl. Son Cubano '91 and Las Raices del Son '92 on Tumbao (sides by Sexteto Habanero '24--31); Ignacio Pi¤eiro And His Septeto Nacional '92 on Tumbao ('28 and '30 recordings); Cuban Counterpoint: History Of The Son Montuno '92 on Rounder (various bands recorded '25--67). Ry Cooder recorded in Havana March '96 with pianist Ruben Gonzales, over 50 years after Gonzales first recorded with Rodriguez (debut solo album Introducing Ruben Gonzales '97 on World Circuit). A golden age may be ending; despite the American blockade, Miami is only half an hour away and the American influence is huge; Juan d'Marcos, leader of top band Sierra Maestra who formed the Afro-Cuban All-Stars (album on World Circuit '97) said, 'Son has fused with a Cuban version of rap music and it is very poor quality, badly written, disordered and aggressive. I think Cuban music is in crisis.'