Salsa “ingredients” – Part III: Són cubano

This series explores the many dances that have influenced and helped create salsa.

So far, we covered cumbia, and last week we talked about guaguanco. This week, we are going to explore one of the biggest ingredients of salsa – Són cubano, or Cuban Són.

Cuban Són – The Music
Developed in the early 1930s, Cuban Són is a combination of the Spanish canción and African percussion. Literally translated, it is the voice of the Cuban people (“són” means “sound”). At its origin, it is the music of the underclass, played by those in the lowest social classes. It gained significant popularity when Gerado Machado, the then President of Cuba, asked for Cuban Son to be played in celebration of his birthday. (Fun fact: at the time of Cuban Són’s rise in popularity, due to its lower-class roots, it had made a lot of people devoted to European music very uncomfortable!)

Cuban Són is considered extremely important not only for salsa, but for modern music as a whole, for it is responsible for introducing the use of drums (a significant part of Afro-Cuban rhythm) to mainstream music.

An example of a classic Cuban Són – Chan Chan by Buena Vista Social Club

Nowadays, Cuban Són is not as popular compared to its biggest derivative – salsa. However, you will still find it in the music of famous bands, such as the Buena Vista Social Club, and will forever be an important part of world music history.

Cuban Són – The Dance
While Cuban Són music contributed greatly to the development of Salsa, the dance had relatively less influence. The “basic” of Cuban Son is a sideways movement that looks like a cross between side-step and back-step. Check out the video below as example – the backup dancers in pink are doing the Cuban Són basic, while the main performing couple demonstrates some of the partnerwork found in Cuban Són dancing. It looks like fun!


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