The Cuban Danzón

Danzón is a ballroom dance played by the Cuban charangas. It is a descendant of the popular the Spanish danza of the 1800s and the French contredanse (contradanza) brought by the French immigrants fleeing the Haitian Revolution, who settled in the Cuba’s eastern region. The danzon was preferably danced during winter, because, according to the dancers, it led to extreme overheating. Therefore, in winter Cubans danced danzón, and in summer they waltzed.

Danzón in the 19th Century

As the name in Spanish implies, the danzon is a long dance. In the mid 19th century, Miguel Faílde created the instrumental accompaniment to the dance. The first danzon was performed by a traditional wind orchestra, at the Matanzas Lyceum, January 1st, 1879. The name of the first danzón known was “Las alturas de Simpsom.” The name of the piece was a marked homage to the site in the city where popular celebrations were held.

Years later, musicians like Raimundo Valenzuela, Enrique Guerrero and Félix Cruz, added to new elements to the popular genre.

Danzon in the 20th Century

At the beginnings of the 20th century, José Urfé revolutionized danzon music completely by introducing a mountain son using the tres (three string guitar) style used by musicians in the eastern provinces of Cuba. Musicologist Helio Orovio said: “El Bombín de Barreto (a song by Urfé) defined for the rest of the century, the singular style that would distinguish the danzón forever.”

From Cuba, the danzon spread to other nations, like Mexico.

Danzon’s Offspring

The danzon generated new genres like the danzonete and the cha cha chá. Barbarito Diez became the King of the danzon. The danzón owes its ample diffusion and clearest interpretation to Diez.

The danzon is currently celebrated during the Havana Danzón Festival, that includes concerts, conferences and meetings that clarify the influence of the danzón on musical genres that came decades later, such as salsa.

Sources: Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC), Helio Orovio, World Music Central

Danzón books

Danzón: Circum-Caribbean Dialogues in Music and Dance (Currents in Latin American and Iberian Music)

Danzón Recordings

The Cuban Danzón

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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