The term rumba refers in Cuba to a variety of dances in which a drummer accentuates the dancer’s movements in a complex improvisation. These folk styles of rumba -- including columbia, yambú and guaguancó -- have polyrhythmic percussion and call/response singing that are strongly African in character.

In the 1920s Havana nightclubs promoted a stylized version of rumba for White patrons and tourists, featuring frilly costumes and sexual flirtation between man and woman. It was a rumba dance show like this that Cuban bandleader Don Aspiazu toured with in the U.S. where he started a rumba dance craze with the 1930 song, El Manicero (The Peanut Vender). Aspiazu’s nightclub style of rumba was popularized in America by dance instructors and movies and paved the way for the mambo in the 1940s and '50s.

Musically, El Manicero -- which included bass, guitar, violins, piano and trumpet -- was much closer in style to the Cuban son than to the folk rumba. Further confusing the picture was the development of an even more different ballroom rumba dance, sometimes spelled “rhumba." The various commercial and ballroom versions of the rumba, nonetheless, helped to popularize Afro-Cuban music in the U.S. and authentic folk styles of rumba constitute an important training ground for Latin percussionists.

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