A dance and accompanying music known since the late 19th century. Primarily African in origin, the version familiar outside Cuba actually is closer to the son (which blended Afro-Cuban music with traditional Spanish rhythms) and the bolero; true Cuban rumba is a faster, more dramatic dance, usually confined to exhibition dancing.
As stated, authentic rumba belongs to the island’s Afro-Cuban folklore. It is a communal act involving a lead singer, known as the gallo (rooster) and a chorus, called vasallo (vassal). Three tumbadoras, or congas, provide the percussion. The quinto, the smallest of the three drums, produces a high-pitched sound. The salidor sustains the rhythm while the medium-sized tres-golpes gives guaguancó its cadence.
Rumba is composed of three distinct rhythmic dances, each with its accompanying percussion, derived from the West African mimetic rituals of the slave population, particularly during the formative 19th century. Hence, one should more accurately refer to rumba yambú, rumba guaguancó, and rumba columbia.
In yambú, the tempo is slow. The dance mimics the gestures of the elderly. It is known as the “old people’s” dance. Columbia is the most complex form of rumba. It flourished in the rural areas of Matanzas. A male solo, rather than a couple, performs the choreography. His mimetic movements and acrobatic gestures imitate those of local members in the community such as a sugarcane-cutter, for example. Guaguancó, the most modern and urban rumba, synthesizes elements of both yambú and columbia. In guaguancó, the man performs pelvic movements of a sexual nature while the woman evades him until finally surrendering. The figurative act of possession and surrender is termed vacunao.