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Diaspora, de/reterritorialization and negotiation of identitary music practices in “La Rumba de Pedro Pablo”: a case study of Cuban traditional and popular music in 21st Madrid

Iván César Morales Flores


The dance and music project known as “La Rumba de Pedro Pablo” brings those who are interested in Cuban popular music face to face with a revitalized field of study. The re-significance of Caribbean cultural codes that shows its growing hybridization of music-dance genres and styles (son, timba, flamenco, jazz, rock, reggaeton…) reveals the complex dynamics of negotiation encountered by rumba –one of the most representative practices of the cultural and musical Cuban heritage- in its adaptation to a new space of welcome: the 21st century Madrid music scene. The interest of the present text is centered, on the one hand, on the conditions that give origin to this transterritorial project, founded in Madrid in 2010 and, on the other hand, on the discursive treatment that it provides to the Cuban rumba as an artistic, festive and de-territorialized dance-music manifestation. With this aim, we have conducted personal interviews with Pedro Pablo Rodríguez, founder and director of the project and we have also consulted weekly journals and newspapers as well as theoretical proposals of authors such as Frith (1996), Brah (2002), Braziel and Mannur (2003), Fabbri (2006), García Canclini (2008) and Haesbaert (2013).

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This text is part of the article “La Rumba de Pedro Pablo: de/reterritorialization of Cuban folkloric, traditional and popular practices in the Madrid music scene of the 21st century” published in Spanish in the dossier “Abre la muralla: refracciones latinoamericanas en la música popular española desde los años 1960”, Celsa Alonso and Julio Ogas (coords.), in Cuadernos de Etnomusicología, Nº 13, 2019, as a result of the Research Project I+D+i: “Música en conflicto en España y Latinoamérica: entre la hegemonía y la transgresión (siglos XX y XXI)” HAR2015-64285-C2-1-P.


1The Cuban music scene in 21st century Madrid significantly differs from those years which marked the international boom of the Caribbean island’s music since the commercial phenomenon of Cuban salsa –also known as casino- and Cuban son. The following 1996 press chronicle of barely two decades past, reflects how the Cuban music of those years was at its peak in Madrid:

Madrid is experiencing a tropical, Antillean, and pleasant allure at the close of this century. Many cats disguised as mulatos at night gulp down mojitos and daiquiris and marinate to the rhythm of Caribbean salsa. In the dark of night, the phantom of La Lupe visits the downtown nightclubs. Omara Portuondo has taken over Celia Gámez. Manolín, el Médico de la Salsa, sings hot prescriptions in the Cuartel del Conde Duque. Compay Segundo and his band daily deliver in our bars the elixir of elegant old age. The old Trova Santiaguera captivates youngsters. In the plaza, Gema and Pavel open the jar of mixed-race essences. Bands such as Havana Conexion or Sociedad Latina cause sensual sweats in dance halls. (…) Step-by-step this virus has spread around the city so much so that Madrid cannot currently be imagined without these Afro-Cuban and Caribbean rhythms. (CANTALAPIEDRA, 1996)

  • 1 Created in 1990 after recording a namesake album with the record company World Circuit, Nonesuch an (...)

2Nowadays, this music scene offers various proposals that mark its uniqueness from a different reality, also derived from the echoes of that international and successful salsa boom and the subsequent phenomenon of the Buena Vista Social Club.1

Cuba is on everybody’s lips in Madrid. Havana is always present in Madrid with its semi-dark nightclubs and colorful mulatas. Some years ago, Madrid was overrun with Cuban venues, beginning or ending with ‘La Comercial Cubana’ or ‘La Reina de Cuba’ in Plaza de Cuzco where the island’s stars of the Cuban son, from Carlos Manuel to Isaac Delgado, came to perform live. ‘Azúcar’ near the Atocha station is at present the only surviving spot. Long gone is that wondrous time, today’s Cubanness still remains in the Puerta del Sol with two veteran, but lively venues called ‘La Negra Tomasa’ and ‘El Son’. (HERRERA, 2015)

  • 2 The “Special Period in Time of Peace” began in Cuba at the turn of the 90s. It was primarily due to (...)

3Indeed, the Madrid of the last few years offers Cuban music and musicians a commercial circuit of lesser impact and diffusion (bars, restaurants, cafés, club and small concert halls). However, their discourses diversify reflecting richer proposals, genres, styles and hence an appropriation/re-significance of their music-culture competence. Little by little, these protagonists, professional musicians who mainly arrived with the 90s wave of Cuban migration (“Special Period”),2 find employment in the active music scene of Madrid.

4Within this singular scenario, attention has been drawn to La Rumba de Pedro Pablo, a project whose main element –as its name indicates- is the Cuban rumba; an instrumental, vocal, dance and festive genre that represents the folkloric and popular music tradition of the island. This fact proves to be of special interest taking into account that more than Cuban salsa, timba or latin-jazz –more popular genres when it comes to the commercial scope of the Cuban music in present day Madrid and abroad- rumba is deeply rooted in the worldviews and experiences of the Cuban society. So much so, in fact, that recently, in 2016 The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared rumba Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

5Just as it happens with the remaining protagonists of this Cuban music scene of migration, the path of the project La Rumba de Pedro Pablo is marked by identity cleavage and hybridization, a dialogic and liminal space in which “diasporic subjects experience double (and even plural) identifications that are constitutive of hybrid forms of identity” (BRAZIEL and MANNUR, 2003: p.5). In other words, a proposal that moves through “networks of transnational identifications encompassing ‘imagined’ and ‘encountered’ communities” (BRAH, 2002: p. 196), invariably subject to continuous dynamics of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. As García Canclini states, two processes (de/reterritorialization) which refer to “the loss of the ‘natural’ relation of culture to geographical and social territories and, at the same time, certain relative, partial territorial relocations of new and old symbolic productions” (2008: p. 229). As Haesbaert states, and Deleuze and Guattari assert, “the opening toward something new, the ‘line of escape’ as point of departure from past territoriality and toward construction of new territory” (2013: p. 13).

6Taking the aforementioned as the starting point, this work sets out to question how La Rumba de Pedro Pablo emerged in the Madrid music scene of the 21st century. The main objective is to differentiate the discursive treatment such project entails for the Cuban rumba as an artistic, festive and de/reterritorialized danceable musical expression.

“La Rumba de Pedro Pablo” in the Madrid music scene of the 21st century

  • 3 Habana Blues from Spanish director Benito Zambrano is one of the most popular feature films filmed (...)
  • 4 The Habana Blues Band was created in Madrid after recording the soundtrack of the movie Habana Blue (...)

7The project La Rumba de Pedro Pablo emerges in Madrid in 2010, six years after Pedro Pablo Rodríguez Mireles, its director and founder, arrived in the Spanish capital. Pedro Pablo, as he is commonly referred to by his colleagues, came to Spain after finishing a tour which included Germany, Austria, and Holland. He was a member of the group of Pío Leyva, a musician of the Buena Vista Social Club. According to Pedro Pablo, “I decided to stay just like many Cuban musicians. The tour ended and I remained in Holland. From there I took a train to Barcelona and within two days or a week arrived in Madrid (2018).” Once in Madrid two other musicians –Dayan Abad and Enrique “Kiki” Ferrer- Cuban emigrants and school classmates at the National School of Arts in Havana, were waiting for him. Abad and Ferrer had participated in the composition and recording of the soundtrack of the feature film Habana Blues3 and they promised Pedro Pablo the future possibility of joining this project. Once the movie was released (2005) it became a blockbuster. Pedro Pablo joined the Habana Blues Band4 and began his professional career in Spain.

8Due to the process of regularization of illegal immigrants that took place in 2005 under the seat of Rodríguez Zapatero, Pedro Pablo became legally established in the country. From time to time he shares the Madrid music scene with important musicians from the island such as Alain Pérez o Javier Massó (Caramelo) as well as La Creativa Big Band, well-known band of the Creative Music School of Madrid. Step-by-step, “[I] began to get involved in the jazz world and play in venues where Cuban music was performed, trying to make a living and getting to work (Rodríguez, 2018).” Within two years, and mainly due to his excellent professional level and quality as congas (tumbadoras) and Afro-Cuban batás improviser, Rodríguez Mireles has imposed himself on the Madrid music scene as the new protagonist of the Cuban music scene of migration. He defines himself as an “all-inclusive” percussionist who welcomes as music references Cuban bands and performers as important as:

My maestro José Luis Quintana (Changuito), my batás and Afro-Cuban music maestro Reynaldo Hernández (Naldo), son to “El Goyo.” Tata Güines, Miguel Angá, Giovanni Hidalgo, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Yoruba Andabo, Clave y Guaguancó, Irakere, Los Van Van… (ROS, 2013)

  • 5 Other domestic and international companies, producers of percussion instruments and accessories whi (...)

9When speaking of his collaboration with other musicians of the Spanish scene, covered in just a decade, we have to mention, among others, Luz Casal, Emilio Aragón, Manu Tenorio, the recently deceased Jerry González and maestro Bebo Valdés with whom Pedro Pablo recorded the soundtrack of the movie Chico and Rita (2011) directed by Fernando Trueba. It is also worth underlining the professional background of this emigrated Cuban percussionist at present flagship artist of the record label Latin Percussion (LP).5 He was a member of the band Rojitas y su Orquesta –singer (Rojitas) known as “La Voz de oro de Cuba” (the Golden voice of Cuba)- and for two years he played in the popular band NG la Banda of José Luis Cortés (El Tosco), one of the most outstanding musicians of the island in the last four decades.

10It is precisely in La Reina de Cuba in Madrid, one of the venues devoted to Cuban music, where Pedro Pablo comes across with the possibility of making “a little rumba and Afro-Cuban music,” his personal project:

I’d been in Spain for some time, don’t know if three or four years and felt the need of playing rumba, tambores, guaguancó, columbia and all those genres of Afro-Cuban music you don’t do here. When I say you don’t do them here I mean from a show point of view maybe you do have them from a religious and private-party point of view…but that was not what I wanted. I wanted to make a cultural show revolving around Cuban and Afro-Cuban music. The owners of La Reina de Cuba who are also Cubans, offered me the possibility of playing Afro-Cuban music in Madrid for the first time. (RODRÍGUEZ, 2018)

  • 6 We have to mention other members who have also contributed to the project during its almost ten yea (...)
  • 7 After being active for forty years, the old Café Berlin is presently located on Costanilla de los Á (...)

11After playing for five months in La Reina de Cuba, Pedro Pablo and the Cuban musicians who were accompanying him6 found a spot in the popular Café Berlín on the Jacometrezo street, “…irreverent paradise committed to rock, folk, flamenco, pop, and funk, the sassiest cabaret and song” (ORTEGA, 2016). It is precisely in one of the oldest and more historical venues of the music night-life of Madrid7 where Pedro Pablo founds his project La Rumba de Pedro Pablo, an Afro-Cuban music and dance show that takes place, by way of club, every Sunday afternoon.

The idea of the club derives from the success at La Reina de Cuba. Once La Reina ceased to exist, its owners…, rented the old Café Berlin every Sunday to continue having the party of La Rumba de Pedro Pablo. (RODRÍGUEZ, 2018)

  • 8 The theory of “genre complexes” in Cuban musicology was developed by Argeliers León, important figu (...)

12The show at Café Berlín created and directed by Pedro Pablo, is divided into two sections which last about three hours (from seven in the afternoon until 10 at night) with a 15-minute intermission. The first hour and a half is dedicated to African-based Cuban dances and rhythms, mainly Yoruba. The second section is devoted to Cuban rumba including the three traditional forms the “rumba complex”8 encompasses (yambú, columbia and guaguancó). Professional dancer Yudeskia Llanes former member of the famous Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba (National Folkloric Ensemble of Cuba), who has been working with Pedro Pablo for over a year states,

Whereas the first part corresponded to a more visual and scenic character, devoted to represent the Orishas (Yoruban deities that belong to the Caribbean religious system known as Regla de Osha o Santería), the second was more spontaneous and interactive, open to the characteristic improvisation of rumba. (2018)

  • 9 “From the prehistory of the current rumba at Central Park, undoubtedly, when Chano Pozo arrived in (...)

13Since the show is concieved as a "sample of Cuban culture with great interest in African-based dances and music" (RODRÍGUEZ, 2018), it is quite common to enjoy some of the island's popular genres such as mozambique, pilón and conga as well as folkloric drumming, singing and dancing be them of Congo, Arará and Bantú (yuka, makuta, palo and garabato beats) origin. Yet, the most exulted and interesting moments are those related to rumba during the second part of the show. It is precisely in this part when the musicians and the audience give theselves up to the spontaneous and festive character of the Cuban rumba and totally identify with the music-gestural codes of this particular performance. This is, without any doubt, one of the most interesting features of Pedro Pablo’s Madrid show due to the systematicity and permanence generated by the participatory frameworks in which this rumba club was initially developed. We should bear in mind that this type of activity has always distinguished the Cuban rumba, either in the island or the diaspora. We cannot fail to mention three significant examples within the genre, the Peña (club) del Ambia, which took place for more than thirty years in the gardens of UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists) in Havana and was organized by Eloy Machado, poet and rumbero. The Peña de la Rumba that since 1990 takes place every Sunday in the popular and touristy Callejón de Hamel in Havana, with the participation of famous rumba ensembles like Rumbatá, Clave y Guaguancó, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Rumba Morena. Outside of the island there is a rumba encounter every summer Sunday in New York's Central Park which dates back to the early 60's and according to some scholars, is historically related to the percussionist Chano Pozo.9

14Following this tradition, Pedro Pablo adopts as strategy of his de/reterritorialized rumba proposal, the typical codes of a festive danceable music show as well as the resources of permanence and loyalty of the audience provided by the club's participatory model. This conception was kept from 2010 until 2013, the year in which the Madrid venue (Café Berlín) was sold to new owners. After this change, the show has become more and more infrequent (approximately once a month) at reference venues of the capital such as the Sala Clamores, Bogui Jazz Club, AC Recoletos Jazz Club, Café Populart, Museo Antropológico de Madrid, among others. In addition to this, they have had presentations in national and international events such as the Afro-Brazilian Festival Bahía-Madrid (2015), Festival Twiza Tanger (11th edition, 2015), 7th International Guaguancó Festival in Lloret de Mar (2016), the Festival Barrio Latino in San Lorenzo del Escorial (2018), and CubaCulture 2018 at the Art Center Harina de Otro Costal in Huelva (2018).

  • 10 Despite its ups and downs and according to official records of the National Institute of Statistics (...)

15The audience attending the shows of La Rumba de Pedro Pablo differs. On one side, it is composed of many Cubans residing in Madrid who left the island due to the Special Period and on the other, Spanish people who are friends and family of the attending Cubans or simply lured by curiosity. It cannot be denied that, "[...] in those times [referring to the beginnings of the project] the folkloric and Cuban rumba repertoire was not as strong or as big as it is today. Many of the Spanish people who attend possess more knowledge" (LLANES, 2018). This is undoubtedly related to the close links between the Cuban community of migration and the people from Madrid.10

16We shall not forget that rumba is one of the most representative forms of expression of the music and cultural history of Cuba. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in harbor areas and urban solares (courtyards) of Matanzas and Havana. Its popularity is deeply-rooted in the festive element, "generated by dissimilar situations, with no ritual reference, which succeeds in gathering a group of individuals and that in multiple cases springs spontaneously" (ELI and GONZÁLEZ 2003: p. 53). The musical interpretation is composed of voices, with the characteristic alternation of soloist-chorus and percussion instruments which range from utilitarian utensils such as chairs, tables, taburetes, spoons, bottles or frying pans to wooden cajones and/or tumbadoras (congas). The latter are usually played in sets of two or three and at present are the most representative instrument of this genre. According to timbre and function, they are defined as salidor (lowest-pitched more stable rhythms), tres-dos (middle-pitched) and quinto (highest-pitched big improvising rhythms). Together with the congas the claves are also part of this music ensemble and the catá or guagua, a wooden idiophone which leads the rhythmic pattern or cáscara.

17Cuban rumba is mainly composed of rhythms, songs, instruments, words and corporeal gestures of Yoruba, Congo, Carabalí and Dahomeyan ancestry as well as some narrative influences of Spanish romance. In the subgenres of yambú and guaguancó, couples dance together with sensual gestures typical of the performance. This feature grows more evident in guaguancó, the most recognized within the complexity of Cuban rumba. Unlike yambú -the slowest style of the three- guaguancó depicts a couple simulating a constant attraction-repulsion ritual whose climax is achieved with the vacunao, a pelvic thrust showing the male is possessing the female. Meanwhile, columbia, the fastest of the three, is only performed by men with virtuoso choreographies, acrobatic show-off, signs of effusive masculinity and even the use of knives and machetes.

18Paradoxically, rumba's international popularity owes a great deal to the commercial boom arisen from its interaction with cabaret theatre, shows, revues, bufo and lyrical theaters and, sainetes or cuplés (this last element especially refers to Spain with the cupletistas rumbistas at the turn of the 20th century). Within this scope, we need to mention important figures such as Consuelo Portella Audet known as La Bella Chelito or La Cristóbal Colón de la rumba antillana. Additionally, María la Cubana identified with the explosive name of the turnmoil of the tropics and Mirthe Warttlynk who was popularized as the Josephine Baker of Madrid (ELI and ALFONSO 1999: p. 82-83).

19The style of that scenic rumba which took place at the Teatro Alhambra in Havana (1890-1935) one of its seminal spots, with set characters such as the negro, the gallego and the mulata, marked significant transformations with regards to music and dance forms belonging to rumba. Its new projection introduced by Cuban musicians as such, greatly minimized the polyrhythmic and rhythmic-accent complexity that typified the genre, making it more accesible to Spanish and international sensitivity (Paris, Mexico, The United States). Good examples are the Catalonian Javier Cugat who from 1930 popularized the genre rhumba or hall rumba in The United States and Antonio Machín who besides excelling in Spain due to his popular interpretations of boleros, included in his repertoire many rumba songs such as La Morita, Tumbaito, Tierra va a temblá and Ze Betún.

20In contrast with this international star-studded rumba constellation, the Madrid proposal of Pedro Pablo stands out because it does not deviate from the referent complexes of Cuban rumba. More than simplicity and transparency, as a resource of easy assimilation and acceptance of the Cuban outside of Cuba, Pedro Pablo's rumba is invested with continuous amalgams, fragmentations and dialogues of heterogenous components. It is a rumba that offers the audience the modernization and re-significance of the genre's music and culture codes from its most ancestral tradition. According to Pedro Pablo,

First, I played pure Afro-Cuban music, but I soon realized people did not like it very much here in Madrid. Maybe you would find an interested audience, but it would not go beyond that. Then, I started to fuse Afro-Cuban music with some elements of Spanish music and from elsewhere. (2018)

21Marked by the de/reterritorialization that reveals the creative discourse of every migrant subject, since 2010 La Rumba de Pedro Pablo has opened to new experiences in a dialogical relationship with the determining factors which identify the Madrid scene. The diversity of the audience, mainly composed of Cubans and Spanish people, encourages him to meet dissimilar expectations. This is the reason why the core component of his proposal articulates upon three preferable variants; the ancestral of the Cuban rumba as point of departure of his discourse, the traditional folkloric, and Cuban danceable popular music as recurrent referential scope of his discourse and the Spanish music as second referential scope. As Fabbri states and being in accordance with his conception of musical genre, "a code stratification in which every code is in constant negotiation and adaptation and is recognized and possessed [...] with different degrees of competence and at times in conflict with one another." (2006: p.13).

22This reality becomes visible, in the first instance, from the vocal-instrumental template the project of Pedro Pablo hosts, composed of a soloist, a chorus (carried out by the performing musicians), three percussionists, a tresero and a bass player. In this sense, the representative instruments of Cuban rumba, tumbadoras (congas) set, clave and catá stand out on the one hand and on the other, the typical instruments of an ample repertoire of Cuban music, among them batá drums, representative of Yoruba folkloric music, tres, bass, double bass, timbale (Cuban pailas), chekeré, and bell (cowbell), all characteristic of the island’s traditional and popular music, mainly of Cuban son. Also the electric guitar (played by the tresero), proper of contemporary music and though ocasionally, the saxophon, representative of the jazz-band and similar Cuban genres such as mambo and cha-cha-chá. The Peruvian cajones come last in this instrument roster, used mainly in flamenco, a rumba simbiosis of the Hispano-American music.

23The stratification and hybridization of codes showcased by the rumba discourse of this diaspora musician is highly significant in the context of its execution since the codes and music-gestural patterns of Cuban rumba lie at its core base. This is the reason why yambú, columbia, and guaguancó all articulate within the show’s narrative. They usually begin with the slower style (yambú) and end with the fastest and most virtuous (columbia). Guaguancó, however, brings together bigger improvisations and fusion of sound components, and with regards to dance, the highest devotion of the audience. The show contemplates a professional dancing couple, but their figures can never be compared to what the attending audience achieves, especially the Spanish participants. The previously mentioned dancer states, “they come to learn and spend some time. [And] of course when I am working directly with them I focus on the basic steps and leave out the complexity of the genre.” (2018)

24Musical examples are numerous when it comes to the high level of hybridization. This is mainly highlighted by the rumba cover versions Pedro Pablo and his musicians perform of traditional and popular songs of the island, among them Suavecito a guaguancó-timba-chachachá version of an anthological and traditional Cuban son of Ignacio Piñeiro, founder of the Septeto Nacional de Cuba. El breve espacio en que no estás a yambú-trova-traditional son-Cuban salsa version of a song of Pablo Milanés founder and exponent of the Cuban Nueva Trova and Ahora como te mantienes a rumba-traditional son-Cuban salsa-reggaetón version of a danceable song of Juan Formell founder of the popular Cuban band Los Van Van.

25In some cases, the hybridization complexity shown by the discourse in the articulation and fusion of genres is particularly striking. The following chart, based on the cover of Suavecito, may serve as example.

Chart 1: structural design of the song Suavecito, La Rumba of Pedro Pablo

  • 11 The Guarapachangueo is a rumba style which became popular in Havana between 1970 and 1980. It is ch (...)

26As it can be appreciated from the chart, the prevailing discourse in this song pertains to the rumba subgenre of guaguancó. A guaguancó with a high level of rhythmic complexity which relates to the guarapachangueo style11 (musical exemple 1) and therefore the enriched, segmented and conversational polyrhythm that together showcase the congas “Tres Dos” (male drum, medium register) and “Salidor” (female drum, low register) with their various types of strokes: tapado (with the fingertips), bajo (with the palm of your hand) y abierto (with the knuckles).

Exemple 1: characteristic stroke of the Guarapachangueo style. Transcription Pedro Pablo Rodríguez and Iván César Morales.


  • 12 The Timba is par excellence the genre of the Cuban danceable popular music of the 90s. Due to its c (...)
  • 13 The charanga or orquesta típica cubana is a type of band from the middle of the 20th century which (...)

28From a structural level, such complexity is evident in the juxtaposed and superposed articulation of musical resources which range from the use of distinctive behaviors of the traditional rumba of the island (Introduction and Verse sections) to the utilization of rhythmic-accents and melodic patterns proper of current Cuban timba12 (Refrains 3, 4 and 5). Between these two extremes, the cha-cha-chá sections stand out and define the refrains 1 and 2 tinged by the rock sounds interspersed with the electric guitar. One step further into this complexity of hybridization is provided by the segmented use of son-styled melodic-rhythmic turns of the tres (Verse and Refrain sections) whose behavior occasionally imitates the melodic function fulfilled by the violins in the format of Charanga or Orquesta Típica Cubana13. The use of the bass in keeping with the Cuban son and also the characteristic lalaleo (or diana) with which the soloist initiates or “raises” the chant in traditional rumba (Introduction section) are also remarkable.

29Within this discursive plot, it is important to highlight the climatic function of the final refrains of the song. They convey a musical treatment that is progressively characterized by the virtuosity and self-confidence of the referenced Cuban timba. The most substantial element that resurfaces is the dynamics of improvisation established between the soloist and the chorus whose texts denote the permanence of archetypal vocabulary and characters of the 90s-Cuban slang (Special Period), its peculiar idiosyncrasy, unaffected easiness and double meaning,

Chorus (3)

Chorus: Suavecito pa’ aquí, suavecito pa’ allá.

Soloist: En un solo ladrillito vamos, Mami, a guarachar.

Chorus: Suavecito pa’ aquí, suavecito pa’ allá.

Soloist: Y es que con tanto movimiento te me vas a desmayar […]

Chorus (5):

Chorus: Si tú quieres la caña por la madrugá’.

Soloist: Hay que pagar un derecho para entrar al cañaveral.

Chorus: Si tú quieres la caña por la madrugá’.

Soloist: Cuidado al coger la caña que te coge el mayoral.

Chorus: Si tú quieres la caña por la madrugá’. Pórtate bien, te voy a dar […]

30Despite the geographical and temporal distance which separates Havana of the 90s from present day Madrid, the treatment of the text persists in the use of lexical codes and formulas representative of the Cuban musical and popular dance imaginary of those past years. To a lesser extent –obviously due to the de/reterritorialization- the text echoes the manner of speaking of the most popular classes of Havana using terms that many consider vulgar, tacky, marginal, racist and even male chauvinistic. This treatment proves hard to assimilate if we do not take the following into consideration:

Traditional lexical means such as jocularity, joking, double meaning, irony, satire, parody and hyperbole were used [in the 90s-Cuban danceable popular music] to tackle issues of severe social connotation and manifest the author’s will to denounce and censor certain facts through mordancy, irreverent but sly mock or surrounded by an atmosphere which conveyed their intentions, as much or more than the text itself. (CASANELLA, 2013, p. 154)

31From these premises, it is crucial to understand the participatory means in which the Madrid rumba of Pedro Pablo is developed. Undoubtedly the audience and commercializing agents condition to a great extent the music to be consumed. Here the balance tips towards the music of that Cuba that not only Pedro Pablo and his 90s-diaspora musicians left behind, but also many of those attending the show. To the above mentioned adds, the interest of the Spanish and foreign audiences towards the Cuban imaginary of sensuality, joy and festivity which permeates the performance of the island’s danceable popular music. So, the meaning of the lyrics here exposed should not be simply interpreted from the words or phrases they make up, but from the framework of codes that intervenes in the development of the rumba show. According to Frith’s musical genre assumptions, “Genre is not determined by the form or style of a text itself but by the audience’s perception of its style and meaning, defined most importantly at the moment of performance” (1996, p. 94).

32La Rumba de Pedro Pablo has also incorporated, as another strategy of negotiation and adaptation to the Madrid music scene, rumba cover versions of classics of traditional and popular Spanish music, among them Pena Penita Pena, Porompompero and La Bien Pagá. This last interpreted in an attractive guaguancó-Cuban traditional son version that significantly subverts the musical and text-content codes which distinguish this popular copla composed by the lyricists and composers Ramón Perelló and Juan Mostazo in the Madrid of the 30s. In his trans-territorial rumba version, La Bien Pagá Pedro that Pablo offers us, it also talks about love and disappointment, but this time enriched with that popular loving poetry that distinguishes the lexical and idiosyncratic substratum of Cuban danceable popular music. The following example shows the lyrics in the climax or refrain (soloist-chorus alternation):

Chorus: Bien pagá, bien pagá, bien pagá fuiste mujer.

Soloist: Ya yo no te quiero, ya yo tengo a otra,

otra mulatona, que me sabe querer. ¡Bien pagá!


Soloist: ¡Eh!, dame un besito, un beso en la boca.

Oye, Mamacita, que te lo voy a pagar. ¡Bien pagá!


Chorus: Bien pagá, bien pagá, bien pagá fuiste mujer.

Soloist: Mira cómo dice el coro, Mamacita. Escucha bien, Mamá.

Chorus: Bien pagá, fuiste mujer.

Soloist: Y a la hora que me llames, yo no me molesto, Mamá.

  • 14 Danilo Orozco, famous son scholar refers to the term tumbao as “model or fundamental and basic patt (...)

33The chart below (Chart 2) shows that at a musical level, a structural conception of son sets out, reserving the refrain for the height moments and climatic tension. Unlike the previously analized example, here the characteristic musical features of guaguancó coexist at all times in a more traditional style together with the Cuban son. At times, this coexistence borders on a sharp and complex hybrid relationship between these two genres of the island’s traditional and popular music. On one side, the rumba’s distinctive music elements are identified in the repetitive rhythmic beats performed by the catá as clave or leading pattern and on the other, in the polyrhythmic development of the two sets of tumbadoras, the second including a Cuban rumba cajón. These two patterns are maintained both in the verse and refrain sections where, in addition to the previously mentioned, the use of a clear rumba refrain (with vocals doubling on the 4th and 3rd parallels) also stands out. Meanwhile, the distinctive elements of son are revealed in the progressive interpretations of a tumbao14 performed by the tres as rhythmic-melodic instrument. Its suggestive and provocative treatment defines the verse sections due to the dialogue it establishes with the prevailing rhythmic base of guaguancó. However, since in the refrain sections the son predominates, the tres behavior turns into a stable and cohesive discursive pattern. The syncopated bass the baby bass plays in the refrain sections and the distinctive beats of pailas, caja china (wood block) and cencerro (cowbell) reinforce the climatic sections of the son.

Chart 2: structural design of the song La Bien Pagá, La Rumba de Pedro Pablo

34Another important example within this negotiation and re-signification of Spanish and rumba codes is offered by the song Con tres cajones. Melodic patterns of flamenco and Cuban son (with the characteristic tumbao) fuse in this song with successful balance, in unison with the rhythmic clapping of flamenco style, the syncopated bass of son, the rhythmic clave of guaguancó and three flamenco cajones, just as its name suggests. The singular amalgam of Cuban rhythms and flamenco sounds evidenced in the treatment of the three cajones constitutes the gravitational core of the piece, together with an accentuated sense of improvisation which fluctuates between son, jazz (Latin-jazz), timba and a style of flamenco closest to what Paco de Lucía popularized internationally. One of the improvisations of the soloist states “the rumba I bring you from Cuba, from Havana for Spanish people to dance.” A rumba that undoubtedly recalls the popular and sound imaginary of that “Special Period” Havana (90s) referenced and quoted here in one of the timba refrains that NG La banda popularized in those years, “¡ole con ole, arroz con frijole’ [y cerveza Hatuey]!” (ole with ole, rice and beans [and Hatuey bear]!). From the Spanish referent, this same refrain uses one of the most characteristic interjections of Spanish culture: ¡Olé! Or ¡Ole!


35Since it began to take shape at Café Berlin in 2010, La Rumba de Pedro Pablo with a decade of existence and from its de/reterritorialized dynamics, has successfully conquered the Madrid music scene. Its interaction with a new community and its norms, commercial dynamics, and receptive competencies which differ from its starting area, led to the negotiation of new strata and adaptations within its rumba discourse. A Cuban rumba in the Madrid of the 21st century which re-signifies, from migratory experience, its codes of departure in a dialogic and sharp crisscrossing of genres, styles, and danceable music codes of mainly Cuban and Spanish reference. This festive show, a middle road between the spontaneous and open genre of original rumba and the organized conception of a danceable music “concert” creates a participatory evening of highly cultural content and collective enjoyment between migrated Cubans and native Spanish people. Together, they share that Cuban imagined community which is the folkloric and rumba show of Pedro Pablo, either from the search or enjoyment of identity references of a life left-behind or from the pleasure and discovery of a danceable music culture of manifest vivacity, sensuality, and richness of sounds.

36The rumba that Pedro Pablo and his musicians offer from Madrid, verifies once more the malleability of a Cuban festive genre that has been historically defined as the mixture and fusion of heterogeneous cultural elements, mainly of African origin. His proposal adds positively to the hybridization dynamics that, either from Cuba or abroad, showcases contemporary rumba through bands like Irakere, Los Papines, Orishas, Yoruba Andabo, Habana Abierta, Interactivo, X Alfonso, Free Hole Negro, Telmary Diaz, Okilakua, among others. A convulse rumba plagued with musical mixtures (yoruba, bantú, son, bolero, cha-cha-chá, conga, mambo, Cuban salsa, timba, jazz, rock, funk, rap, hip hop, reggaetón, flow, flamenco) which, at least, gets us acquainted with a new and revitalized stage of this patrimonial and trans-territorial Cuban genre.

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1 Created in 1990 after recording a namesake album with the record company World Circuit, Nonesuch and produced by Ry Cooder. The Buena Vista Social Club band was composed of star members such as Máximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz (Compay Segundo), Gilberto Oviedo la Portilla (Papi Oviedo), Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer, Pío Leyva, Angá Díaz, Orlando “Cachaíto” López, Elíades Ochoa and Omara Portuondo.

2 The “Special Period in Time of Peace” began in Cuba at the turn of the 90s. It was primarily due to the dissolution of the former Soviet Union (1991) and it has been defined as an extended period of severe economic crisis and intensification of critical life conditions on the island. One of its immediate consequences was the massive exodus of thousands of Cubans.

3 Habana Blues from Spanish director Benito Zambrano is one of the most popular feature films filmed in recent years revolving around Cuban migration. Its great success is mainly due to two factors; on one hand, the quality of the performing musicians, some of whom were completely unknown at that time and on the other, the impact caused by the contemporaneity of its soundtrack, a fusion of rap, funk and Cuban music. The movie was awarded a Goya in 2005 for Best Original Score and Best Edition, CEC Award in 2005 for Best Music, ACE Award in 2005 for Best Leading Actor and Best Director, Music Awards in 2005 for Best Soundtrack and the Turia Awards for Best Spanish Movie.

4 The Habana Blues Band was created in Madrid after recording the soundtrack of the movie Habana Blues in Havana. Other musicians living in the island such as Kelvis Ochoa, X Alfonso and Descemer Bueno, also participated in this recording. Soon after the success of the movie, the soundtrack of Habana Blues was edited by the Spanish record label DRO Atlantic selling more than 40.000 copies. The Habana Blues Band was created by some of the Cuban musicians who recorded the soundtrack and some others who had previously emigrated to Spain. The band toured the entire country for almost two years and performed over 25 concerts.

5 Other domestic and international companies, producers of percussion instruments and accessories which have included Pedro Pablo Rodríguez Mireles as endorser are Gewadrums, Gewaiberica, Promark, Music Distribution, Remo and J. Leiva Percussion.

6 We have to mention other members who have also contributed to the project during its almost ten years of existence: Dayan Abad (guitar), Yelsy Heredia and Juan José Pestana Hernández (double bass), Dany Noel (bass), Kiki Ferrer, Dany Morales and Hidelvis González (percussion) and Lázaro Armenteros, Ela Ruiz and Diana Chirino (vocals) as well as Yudeskia Llanes, Misladis Camagüey, Rafa Guardiola and Yanulka O’Farril (dancers)

7 After being active for forty years, the old Café Berlin is presently located on Costanilla de los Ángeles 20, venue of the historical hall We Rock until 2016

8 The theory of “genre complexes” in Cuban musicology was developed by Argeliers León, important figure and founding father. Among his copious writings we have to mention Música Folklórica Cubana (1964) which was later reissued and reprinted under the title Del Canto Y Del Tiempo (1974, 1981, 1984, 1987). In this text, Argeliers puts forward the genre complexes of Cuban punto, rumba, danzón, son and canción as a manner of understanding, grouping and relating the diverse musical rhythms of the island. He goes beyond mere and rigid chronological ordering. Over the years, however, his theory has been contested by other scholars who state that, “[…] the enthronement of the complexes, either as fashion or dogma, entails a negative side to the research of Cuban popular music for a barely noticeable reason, since it masks the fundamental unity of our dance music and its essential Africanness from new common Caribbean roots. By compartmentalizing and segmenting dance music and its fundamental pillars, they become separate and autonomous worlds, like ghettos.” (ACOSTA, 2002: p. 4)

9 “From the prehistory of the current rumba at Central Park, undoubtedly, when Chano Pozo arrived in New York he drifted entering Lenox at the northern limit of the perfect rectangle that is the Park, between the continuous period of the warm spring until the last and tolerable cool autumn of 1947 and 1948. He only enjoyed in those two intervals, half a year and a half he lived in the city before dying, that is if his tours with Dizzy [Gillespie] allowed him. He was already extremely famous.” (FALCÓN, 2016)

10 Despite its ups and downs and according to official records of the National Institute of Statistics (INE) of January 1, 2018, after the crisis which began in 2008 the amount of Cubans living in Spain is of 49.174, and out of this figure 8.976 live in the capital. (Accessed February 8, 2019) These data only include foreigners with valid registration certificate or residence card, that is, it includes neither those who are living illegally in the country nor those who have already been nationalized. It is estimated that at present the total amount of Cubans living in Spain could mount to 200.000

11 The Guarapachangueo is a rumba style which became popular in Havana between 1970 and 1980. It is characterized by a high level of complexity and interplay of beats and rests. “Far from the standardized regularity of the drum rhythms […] often sounds slightly random or unorganized to the untrained ear yet presents a plethora of percussive synchronicities for those who understand the clave.” (FRÍAS, 2010, p. 140)

12 The Timba is par excellence the genre of the Cuban danceable popular music of the 90s. Due to its complexity and aggressiveness, many scholars have indistinctively defined it as hypersalsa, heavy salsa or Cuban funky, also in response to its high experimentation potential, the incorporation of diverse sonorities and its overcharged climatic tension. “Within timba there are many interconnections with varied elements that may come from son, rumba, Cuban and Caribbean salsa, and jazz adding the sententious of rap, hip hop and more recently reggaetón. One of its significant features is the manner of combining the accent-rhythmic structures carried out by the percussion, the double bass, the piano and the refrain. In salsa, these are usually fixed and markedly repetead. In contemporary Cuban son the structures are becoming more and more open and continually changing whereas in timba there is extreme fragmentation and segmentation” (ELI, 2005). See also González and Casanella (2002), Froelicher (2005) and López Cano (2007).

13 The charanga or orquesta típica cubana is a type of band from the middle of the 20th century which includes a string section of three or four violins, flute, piano, bass, percussion section (pailas, güiro, tumbadoras and claves) and two or three singers. Its repertoire includes genres such as guaracha, bolero, son and canción. With the passing of years, this type of band derived from orquestas típicas or wind orquestas and French Charangas of the 19th century, became the model format of popular bands of the island, such as Orquesta Arcaño y sus Maravillas (founded in 1937), Orquesta Aragón (1939), Orquesta of Enrique Jorrín (1954) famous for its cha-cha-chás and Elio Revé y su Charangón (1956). From a much more modern sound conception, others joined such as Los Van Van (1969) directed by the famous Juan Formell and David Calzado and La Charanga Habanera (1988) which is considered “a real sound scandal that transgressed the common models of Cuban bands.” (ELI, 2005)

14 Danilo Orozco, famous son scholar refers to the term tumbao as “model or fundamental and basic pattern –in instruments such as tres, basses and keyboards- which gives character and propitiates subtle interrelationships in many son musics and extends to others that are interconnected” (2000: p. 9). “Also marcha. The term tumbao is perhaps best translated as "groove." It refers most often to the basic pulse of a composition, with characteristic aggregate rhythms, pulses, emphases, and syncopations. […] Alternately, tumbao can refer to the most typical patterns played on particular instruments, especially the conga drum. Tumbao in this sense is the most fundamental rhythm of the instrument that the performer will repeat in endless variation throughout the course of a composition.” (OROVIO, 2004: p. 215).

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Table des illustrations

Légende Chart 1: structural design of the song Suavecito, La Rumba of Pedro Pablo
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Légende Exemple 1: characteristic stroke of the Guarapachangueo style. Transcription Pedro Pablo Rodríguez and Iván César Morales.
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Légende Chart 2: structural design of the song La Bien Pagá, La Rumba de Pedro Pablo
Fichier image/jpeg, 25k
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Iván César Morales Flores, « Diaspora, de/reterritorialization and negotiation of identitary music practices in “La Rumba de Pedro Pablo”: a case study of Cuban traditional and popular music in 21st Madrid »Artelogie [En ligne], 16 | 2021, mis en ligne le 27 janvier 2021, consulté le 16 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Iván César Morales Flores

University of Oviedo, Spain. Musicologist. He holds a PhD in Musicology from the University of Oviedo, Spain (2015). In 2016 he was awarded the Premio de Musicología Casa de las Américas in Havana for his book “Identidades en Proceso. Cinco Compositores Cubanos de la Diáspora (1990-2013)”. In 2006 he was awarded the Premio Nacional de Musicología “Argeliers León” from the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.

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