Home - NewsletterEditor's PicksPower SearchCategory SearchArtist SearchJournal ArchivesGlossaryContributorsAbout Descarga


Glossary of Terms
Relating to Afro-Caribbean Music

Abakuá -- 1. A secret fraternal society formed in Cuba by descendants of the Calabar tribe, referred to as the Carabalí. 2. The ritual music and dance of the Abakuá sect, which has greatly influenced Cuban secular forms such as rumba.

abanico -- The rim shot and roll of the timbales.

afro -- A rhythmic style combining adaptations of sacred batá drum rhythms popularized in Cuba in the 1940s, and often used to interpret lullabies.

agbe -- The Yoruba term for a beaded gourd instrument also known as chékere or güiro.

agogo -- An iron bell of Yoruba origin, used in conjunction with iyesá drums.

agwe -- Alternate spelling for "agbe" (see above).

agüe -- Alternate spelling for "agbe" (see above).

Arará (drums) -- Ceremonial drums of Dahomean origin, brought to Cuba's Oriente province by Africans of Dahomean descent following the Haitian Revolution.

areíto -- 1. A term derived from the native, indigenous tribes living in Cuba before colonization, (such as the Siboney, Taíno and Guanajatabibe tribes), referring to elaborate religious celebrations of music, dance and theatre; 2. A rhythmic style combining several elements of Cuban carnaval rhythms with the son and rumba, as well as several North American influences, resulting in a free-style, highly-syncopated style. The areíto later evolved into what is now known as songo.

atcheré -- A rattle or shaker, made either of metal, wood, gourd, coconut or other material, used to accompany sacred instruments such as batá drums.

Bantú -- The African people of Congolese origin, as they are referred to in Cuba. Perhaps one of the most influential African cultures throughout the Caribbean area.

baqueteo -- The rhythmic pattern played by the timbales in the Cuban style known as danzón.

barracón -- The barracks which were used as slave quarters in colonial Cuba, often surrounding a courtyard.

batá (drums) -- The sacred, two-headed drums of the Yoruba people of Nigeria.

bembé (drums) -- A set of three drums made from hollowed palm tree logs, with nailed-on skins which are tuned with heat.

bolero -- A slow, lyrical ballad.

bomba -- 1. A barrel-shaped drum of Afro-Puerto Rican origin, similar to the Cuban tumbadora (conga drum), although shorter; 2. A style of Afro-Puerto Rican music and dance which is also commonly found in salsa repertoires.

bombo -- 1. The "and" of the second beat of a measure; 2. The Spanish term for bass drum.

bombo criollo -- An adaptation of the European military bass drum, used in Cuba for carnaval in styles such as the conga.

bongos -- Two small drums attached by a thick piece of wood, played while held between the knees. The bongos were developed from African predecessors in Cuba's Oriente province. Originally, the bongo's drum heads (skins) were tacked-on, but later a system of tuneable hardware was attached. Bongos today are made of fiberglass as well as wood.

botija -- A ceramic jug originally used to import Spanish olive oil, used to provide a bass accompaniment in the son style.

botijuela -- Another term for botija.

buleador -- One of the rhythmic parts for the Afro-Puerto Rican style of bomba, which may be interpreted on congas as well as the Puerto Rican bomba drums.

caballo -- The name of the conga drum pattern used in the pachanga style, literally meaning "horse."

cajón(es) -- Wooden box(es) used in early interpretations of rumba, and still popular today.

canción -- A simple yet fundamental musical form consisting mainly of lyrics, harmony and melody, with very basic rhythmic accompaniment. The most common setting for this style is voice and guitar, and is often referred to as trova.

carnaval -- "Carnival."

castañuelas -- Spanish castanets.

cencerro -- A cowbell (with the clapper removed), struck with a wooden stick.

cha-cha-chá -- A rhythmic style derived from the early Cuban danzón-mambo, created by violinist Enrique Jorrín (who named the style upon hearing the scraping sounds of dancers'feet). The cha-cha-chá eventually became a separate musical style from the danzón.

changüi -- An early style of the Cuban son, featuring an instrumentation which includes the tres, bongos, güiro, maracas, and the marímbula.

charanga -- A specific style of instrumentation consisting of rhythm section (contrabass, timbales, and güiro), strings (from two to four violins, or any number of violins with a cello), and one wood flute. The piano and conga drum were added in the 1940s. This term (and style of instrumentation) evolved from the charanga francesa, developed in the early 20th century.

charanga francesa -- The original term for what is now known as the charanga instrumentation (see above).

charanga vallenata -- A style of instrumentation combining elements of the Cuban charanga and conjunto styles with the Colombian vallenato style featuring the accordion.

charanguita -- A popular instrumentation in peasant or country music parties (called guateques), consisting of accordion, timbales and güiro.

chékere -- A beaded gourd instrument of African origin used in Cuban sacred music. Also referred to as güiro - for the style of music in which it is used - as well as agbe, agwe or agüe.

cierre -- Term used to refer to a percussion break, as well as a break which may be played by the entire ensemble.

cinquillo -- A five-note pattern or cell derived from the Cuban contradanza, which is part of the rhythmic figure known as the baqueteo in the danzón style.

clave -- A five-note, bi-measure pattern which serves as the foundation for all of the rhythmic styles in salsa music. The clave consists of a "strong" measure containing three notes (also called the tresillo), and a "weak" measure containing two notes, resulting in patterns beginning with either measure, referrred to as "three-two" or two-three." There are two types of clave patterns associated with popular (secular) music: son clave and rumba clave. Another type of clave - 6/8 clave - originated in several styles of West African sacred music.

claves -- Two round, polished sticks which are used to play the clave patterns.

columbia -- A rural style of Cuban rumba containing many African elements in its lyrics, polyrhythmic structure and dance style.

combo -- An adaptation of the North American jazz combo instrumentation in Cuba during the late 1950s, generally consisting of bass, drums, piano, sax, trumpet, Cuban percussion and electric guitar.

comparsa, conga de -- The specific style of instrumentation used in Cuban carnaval music, which plays the conga rhythm. The instruments include conga drums, bombo, cencerros, sartenes (frying pans) and trumpets, or originally, the trompeta china ("Chinese trumpet").

conga (drum) -- A Cuban drum derived from several African predecessors - also known as the tumbadora - originating as a solid, hollowed log with a nailed-on skin. Eventually, tuneable hardware was added and today, conga drums are made out of fiberglass as well as wood.

conga habanera -- The style of the Cuban carnaval rhythm called conga, which is played in Havana.

conga santiaguera -- The style of the Cuban carnaval rhythm called conga, which is played in Santiago.

conjunto -- A specific style of instrumentation developed around 1940, derived from the septeto ensemble, consisting of guitar, tres, contrabass, bongos, three vocalists (who play hand percussion such as maracas and claves), and two to four trumpets. The piano and the tumbadora were added by legendary tres player Arsenio Rodriguez.

contradanza criolla -- An 18th century style derived from the European court and country dances, and a predecessor to the Cuban danzón, containing many Creole musical elements in its instrumentation and interpretation.

corneta china -- Another name for the trompeta china, or "Chinese trumpet," used in Cuban comparsas for carnaval.

coro -- "Chorus."

coro de claves -- A vocal ensemble originating in the 19th century featuring one vocal soloist and a large chorus, often accompanied by guitars, claves, a viola (without strings, used as a drum) and sometimes a botija. Coros de clave often performed in streets and neighborhoods, interpreting a song form called canto de clave.

coro de guaguancó -- A later variation of the type of group known as coro de clave as well as a term used for the instrumentation of groups which interpret rumba. Another term is grupo de guaguancó; (the guaguancó is one particular style of rumba).

coro/pregón -- The call-and-response relationship between the lead vocal soloist, or pregonero, and the fixed choral response, or coro. In salsa song form, this takes place during the open vamp section called the montuno.

cuatro -- A Puerto Rican stringed instrument (similar to the Cuban tres), derived from the guitar.

cucharas -- "Spoons" (lit.) often used in Cuban rumba to play the clave or palitos ("sticks") patterns.

cuá -- The principal pattern in the Puerto Rican form (and rhythm) known as bomba.

cáscara -- 1. The shell or sides of the timbales; 2. The pattern played on the shell or sides of the timbales.

danza -- A 19th century musical and dance form which serves as a precursor to the Cuban danzón.

danzón -- A Cuban musical and dance form developed in the late 19th century, which is derived from the European Court and Country dances, as well as the contradanza and the danza. The instrumentation which generally interprets this style is known as the charanga orchestra, featuring strings and flute with a rhythm section. The danzón form consists of: an introduction called the paseo (A), the principal flute melody (B), a repeat of the introduction (A), and the violin trio (C). Innovations by several composers led to the addition of a fourth section (D) called nuevo ritmo, later known as mambo. This section added elements of the Cuban son, and established an open vamp over which the flute, violin or piano would improvise.

descarga -- "Unloading" (lit.); a jam session, as well as an improvised tune.

diana -- The vocal introduction in the genre of Cuban rumba, which "tunes up" the choir by providing a melodic line before the verse(s).

décima -- A ten-line, octosyllabic verse, typically found in the lyric form of the Cuban son, and in some styles of rumba.

estribillo -- Refrain or chorus.

fotutu -- Conch shells - used as horns - by the indigenous tribes in pre-colonial Cuba.

guaguaguancó -- One of three styles of Cuban rumba, featuring a heightened polyrhythmic structure, and danced by male-female couples (in its traditional folkloric setting). The typical instrumentation (used by all styles) includes: tumbadoras (congas) or cajones (boxes), palitos (sticks) or cucharas (spoons), claves, and marugas (shakers).

guajeo -- The repeated figure played by the string instruments in a particular ensemble such as the tres' vamp in a conjunto instrumentation, or the violin vamp in a charanga instrumentation. Also used to refer to repeated horn lines, such as in a layered mambo section.

guajira -- An arpeggiated and floral song form, derived from the Cuban son with elements of the canción form.

guaracha -- Traditionally a form of música campesina (peasant or country music) which developed as a form of street music, originally featuring satirical lyrics. Now generaly associated with tunes of moderate tempo.

guateque -- A country party or celebration, where live music is the main ingredient.

guayo -- A term referring to the güiro, a serrated calabash which is scraped with a stick. Also used to refer to a metal version which is scraped with a metal fork.

güira -- A metal scraper used for Dominican merengue, scraped with a metal fork.

güiro -- 1. A serrated gourd or calabash, scraped with a stick, which is extremely popular throughout Latin America. It has both African and indigenous American roots. 2. A term previously used to refer to the chékere.

güiro (6/8 rhythm) -- A rhythmic style, so-named because of its interpretation on the beaded gourds known (at first) as güiros, and later, chékeres. In addition to the chékeres, a bell and a tumbadora may be added.

güícharo -- Another term referring to the güiro, particularly a Puerto Rican variety, which is distinguished by thinner grooves than those of a Cuban güiro.

habanera -- A precursor to the Cuban danzón, derived from the contradanza and danza.

Itótele (drum, batá) -- The middle drum in the set of three batá drums.

iyesá (drums) -- A set of four sacred, cylindrical, two-headed drums of hand-carved cedar, played with sticks.

Iyá (drum, batá) -- The largest drum in the set of three batá drums. "Iyá" is "mother" in Yoruba.

kachimbo -- The chékere part - in a güiro rhythm - which holds the pulse (or beat).

Lucumí -- The term used (in Cuba) to refer to Afro-Cubans of Yoruba descent, as well as the language and religion of Yoruba tradition.

makuta (drums) -- Large, barrel-shaped drums, and one of the precursors to the conga drum.

mambo (rhythm) -- 1. The section added to the danzón form (in the 1940s) which featured an open vamp and instrumental improvisation. 2. An up-tempo dance style, developed through the 40s and 50s, which blended several elements of North American instrumentation and harmony with elements of the Cuban son.

mambo (section) -- The section of an arrangement which features new material, including layered horn lines called moñas.

maracas -- Hand-held rattles or shakers, made from gourds, coconuts, wood or rawhide and filled with beans. Found throughout the Americas as well as Africa.

martillo -- The repeated pattern of the bongos, which is frequently "ad-libbed," (or, played improvisationally).

maruga -- A metal rattle or shaker, often used in groups which interpret Cuban rumba.

marímbula -- A large thumb piano-type box of Bantú (Congolese) origin, used to provide the bass in the changüi style of the Cuban son.

merengue -- A rhythmic style from the Dominican Republic, which is a fast two-step, and is traditionally played on tambora, güira and accordion.

montuno (piano) -- The repeated, syncopated vamp secton played by the piano in an ensemble.

montuno (section) -- The open vamp section of a song, which features the coro/pregón (call-and-response singing) and instrumental solos.

mozambique -- A rhythmic style created in the 1960s by Pedro Izquierdo - also known as Pello el Afrokán - which is a style of Cuban carnaval music, traditionally played only on percussion instruments. The mozambique was popularized in North American salsa music by Eddie Palmieri, and was adapted into ensemble interpretations.

moña -- A horn line (either written or improvised), as well as a section featuring layered, contrapuntal horn lines. Moñas may occur during a mambo secton, or during the montuno section, such as in a "shout" chorus underneath a soloist.

música campesina -- "Country" or "peasant" music, containing many elements of regional Spanish troubador styles, which greatly shaped the popular music throughout Latin America.

nuevo ritmo -- "New rhythm" (lit.), referring to the added section of the danzón form in the 1940s by Orestes and Israel "Cachao" López. This section later became known as mambo.

Okónkolo (drum, batá) -- The smallest in the set of three batá drums.

orquesta típica -- An instrumentation used in the interpretation of the Creole contradanza, consisting of woodwinds, brass, strings, güiro and tympani. By the late 19th century, the tympani were replaced by the Cuban pailas or timbales, and the horn section diminished.

pachanga -- A rhythmic style and rigourous dance (featuring skipping and jumping movements), very popular during the 1950s, and originating in the charanga instrumentation.

pailas -- A term for a smaller version of the Cuban timbales.

palitos -- "Sticks" (lit.); specifically, the sticks and pattern played by the sticks in the genre of Cuban rumba.

pandereta -- A hand-held drum - similar to a tambourine but without jingles - used in the interpretation of the Puerto Rican plena rhythm, often in a set of two or three.

paseo -- The introduction of the danzón form.

plena -- An Afro-Puerto Rican rhythm, traditionally played on panderetas, which is an important form of popular music. The plena often serves as a vehicle for the expression of social and politically relevant themes.

ponche -- The fourth beat of a measure (in a measure of four beats), as well as an accent or break which may be played by the rhythm section or the entire ensemble, often used as a transition from one section of a song to another.

pregón -- The lead, improvised vocal which alternates with the fixed choral response, or coro.

quijada -- An instrument originally made from the jawbone of a horse, donkey or mule, and the predecessor of the present-day vibraslap.

quinto -- The highest-pitched drum in a set of three drums used in the styles of rumba, which improvises throughout.

rebajador -- One of the tumbadora (or conga) parts in the conga habanera rhythm.

requinto -- The lead drum in the Afro-Puerto Rican style of bomba, which improvises throughout.

rumba -- A Cuban folkloric secular form, consisting of drumming, dancing and call-and-response singing which contains both African and Spanish roots. There are three styles of rumba: the yambú, guaguancó and columbia.

rumba flamenca -- The style of rumba from southern Spain, also called rumba gitana (gypsy rumba), which influenced the Cuban rumba form.

salidor -- One of the tumbadora parts in the conga habanera rhythm.

sartenes -- Small frying pans used in the conga de comparsa groups for carnaval in Cuba.

segundo -- The middle (or second) drum in the set of three tumbadoras used in Cuban rumba.

septeto -- A style of instrumentation formed around 1927 by the Septeto Nacional, which consisted of the addition of the trumpet to the sexteto.

sexteto -- A style of instrumentation founded in 1920 by the Sexteto Habanero, consisting of the tres, guitar, contrabass, bongos, maracas and claves.

son -- A style of popular dance music of the peasant or working-class, combining several Spanish and African elements. The son began to take shape in the latter half of the 19th century in Cuba's Oriente province, and gave birth to several hybrids including the afro-son, guajira-son, son-pregón and son-montuno. The son is perhaps the most important form at the root of today's popular salsa music.

songo -- A contemporary, eclectic rhythm which blends several styles, including rumba, son, conga and other Cuban secular as well as sacred styles, with elements of North American jazz and funk.

tambora -- A two-headed drum from the Dominican Republic, used in the style of merengue. The tambora is strapped around the neck and played with the hands and one stick, which strikes the drumhead and the wooden side of the drum.

tambores de conga -- Drums used in the early interpretation of Cuban caranaval music (conga de comparsa), which serve as precursors to the conga drums.

timbales -- A set of two, tuneable drums created in Cuba - derived from the European tympani - mounted on a tripod and played with sticks. The set has been added onto with several accessory items such as cowbells, cymbal and woodblocks.

timbalitos -- A smaller version of the timbales, tuned at higher pitches, and often added to the timbales to make up a set of four.

tiple -- A small stringed instrument of Spanish origin, derived from the guitar family, and used in Cuba's música campesina as well as other types of Latin American music with Spanish roots.

tres -- A Cuban stringed instrument derived from the Spanish guitar, consisting of three doble strings and played with a pick. The tres is the signature instrument of the Cuban son.

tresillo -- 1. The term which refers to the three-side of the son clave pattern. 2. "Triplet."

trompeta china -- A reeded trumpet of Chinese origin, brought to Havana, Cuba during colonial times and played for carnaval. The instrument was brought to the island's Oriente province at the beginning of the 20th century, where it would remain an essential element of the conga santiaguera.

trova -- A term referring to the style known as cancíon, stemming from the troubador style of singing, featuring such styles as the bolero, guaracha and the son.

trío -- A style of instrumentation developed during the 1920s, consisting of three singers, with either two guitars and maracas, or three guitars, used in the interpretations of trova (troubador) styles.

tumba francesa -- A style of folkoric music, as well as the name of the drums used in the style, created in Cuba's Oriente province by Africans of Dahomean descent, and particularly those Dahomeans who arrived in Cuba following the Haitian Revolution in 1791.

tumbadora -- A Cuban version of an African drum, consisting (originally) of a hollowed, barrel-shaped log or hand-carved trunk of wood with a tacked-on rawhide head. Later, a system of tuneable hardware was added. The tumbadora is also referred to as the conga drum, and its predecessors include the tambores de conga, used in early comparsas, as well as the makuta drums of Yoruba origin.

tumbao (bass) -- The repeated pattern played by the bass, often accenting beats 2+ and 4. The pattern is a mixture of influences from the styles of the contradanza and the son.

tumbao (congas) -- The repeated pattern played by the tumbadoras (conga drums), also referred to as marcha (march), emphasizing the fourth beat of the measure, as well as beat 4+.

yambú -- The oldest style of rumba, dating back to Cuba's colonial period, often interpreted on cajones (boxes), and danced by male-female couples. It is the slowest style of rumba.

Yoruba -- The people (and language) from Nigeria, and one of the most influential African cultures throughout the Caribbean.

yuka (drums) -- Long, cylindrical drums of Bantú (Congolese) origin; the term yuka also pertains to the style of music in which these drums are used.

Special thanks to Sher Publications for their permission to reprint this glossary which appears in their wonderful book, The Salsa Guidebook for Piano & Ensemble, by Rebeca Mauleón. It is available from Descarga for $24.98 Order TL-12066.5

[Home] [Editor's Picks] [Power Search] [Category Search]
[Artist Search] [Journal Archives] [Glossary]
[Meet The Writers] [About Descarga]

© Copyright 2015, All rights reserved.
Use of any editorial content and/or images originating from this website
is strictly prohibited without the expressed permission of