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