Rumba and Folklore

The terms rumba and folklore are used almost interchangeably when speaking of Afro-Cuban conga rhythms. However there is a distinction between the two. In general rumba describes the rhythms that were developed in Cuba for secular purposes. These rhythms include, but are not limited to the following:
  1. Yambu
  2. Guaguanco
  3. Columbia
  4. Guarapachangeo
  5. Comparsa (though not strictly rumba, it is related, Comparsa is intended for Carnaval)
A rumbero would typically know all the parts to these rhythms, sing choro and and probably dance as well. The conga is the main drum for rumba, their predecessor the cajon is also quite commonly used, especially for yambu and guarapachangeo.

Generally I would describe rumba as a sub-category of Afro-Cuban folkloric percussion music. Their basic similarity is that they are all primarily vocal and percussion ensembles.

Folkloric rhythms are typically those rhythms that have their origins in Africa, and/or are based on religious themes. Commonly these rhythms were historically played on very specific and specialized types of drums; however modern adaptions are frequently played with congas.
These rhythms include:
  1. Arara
  2. Abakua
  3. Bembe
  4. Guiro
  5. Iyesa
  6. Makuta
  7. Palo
  8. Bata Toques
So when one refers to folkloric Afro-Cuban music, potentially they are referring to all the rhythms and musics mentioned. However typically, when one refers to rumba, they are probably referring to those rhythms listed as rumba.

While primarily one plays rumba specific rhythms at a rumba, it is not be unusual for some of the other folkloric rhythms to be played periodically by the rumberos, particularly bembe.


  1. Geordie, I wonder if you might be able to name some good resources for hearing makuta? So far I've had almost no luck; the only one I could find is a single track on an old "The Savage Drums of Cuba!" sort of album from the '50s.

  2. This is what I have for Makuta in my library, some easier to find than others.

    Conjunto Folklorico Nacional De Cuba - Conjunto Folklorico Nacional
    Grupo Exploracion - Drum Jam
    Grupo Oba-Ilú - Drums of Cuba: Afro-Cuban Music From the Roots
    Jimenez/Wardinsky - Study Guide For Afro-Cuban Percussion
    Oba-i-lu - Homenaje Jesus Perez in memoriam

  3. Thanks a million Geordie, and for your followup email as well!