Rumba in NYC is represented by Pedrito Martínez, Román Díaz, Raíces Habaneras and others. You can enjoy Rumba in Central Park, Prospect Park, at Drom in the East Village, Mi Salsa Kitchen in the Lower East Side, Bronx Music Hall in Melrose, and other venues.
Rumba is a party, but in African Diaspora tradition, singing, drumming and dancing together is how we pray. We sing about the saints a lot, but it’s no different from Europeans singing the “Ave Maria.” Cuban Rumba still feels spiritual, but Puerto Rican Rumba is just a party.
Traditional Rumba is voice and chorus; or voice, chorus and percussion from Matanzas, Cuba. Call and response singing and clave rhythms are essential. If you find yourself in a Rumba, stand near the drummers or in the middle of the singers, and sing along with the chorus. It’s a transcendental experience. We become one. This is the Rumba.
In 2016, UNESCO named Rumba part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
Rumba NYC News
March 28, 2022
Román Díaz often plays Cuban Rumba at Mi Salsa Kitchen in the Lower East Side on Wednesdays from 8-11pm. Confirm the day of on the Kitchen’s Facebook. Díaz is one of NYC’s Rumba heavy hitters. Donation. 🇨🇺
Central Park Rumba often forms on Sundays. You may find Rumba in Prospect Park too.
Pedrito Martinez Brings Cuban Rumba & Timba to Brooklyn
“Rumba” means party, but is just 0ne step removed from the religious traditions where most music, dance and theatre begin. Even though it’s just a party, if you spend any time with Cuban Rumba, you can’t help but feel its spiritual roots. It feels good, real good. It’s healing.
In Havana, Rumba from Matanzas mixed with Changüi from Santiago and Jazz horns into Son Cubano. In New York City, Son evolved into Salsa. At the same time in Cuba, Son evolved into Timba by absorbing the bass drum and other elements from R&B and Rock. But Timba still keeps a strong Clave rhythm. It’s Latin dance music.
Pedrito isn’t a Salsero, but can take you anywhere. The purpose of African Diaspora traditions (Latin music and dance) is to bring communities together. So when Pedrito gives the call, the community responds. He really is the world’s first-call Rumbero. This is more than a show. It’s the Pedrito Martinez Experience ~ in Brooklyn.
Our Rumba Roots
Rumba is an Afro-Cuban drum, chorus and dance tradition that is one of the roots of Latin music. Rumba means “party.”
The three Rumba dances are Guaguancó (a playful courting dance in Cuba), Yambú (a sensual dance where the dancers pretend to be elders), and Columbia (a showy challenge between the dancer and lead drummer).
In Havana, Rumba from the west blends with Changüi from the east into Cuban Son dance music. In New York City Son Cubano mixes with 1940s Bebop and Swing into Latin Jazz (Cub0p). That evolves into Salsa in 1970s New York City. In Puerto Rico, Guaguancó is just another name for Salsa.
Cuban Rumba is the root. In fact, the core of Rumba, Clave, is the root of most Latin music in the Spanish language frame. It’s also the root of American Gospel music. You can take the Rumba all the way to Reggaeton and Latin Trap, and the social traditions are similar throughout. It’s been said that if you are not in trance, it’s not Rumba. Ashé.
Some of the best Salsa dancers dance on clave (1-2-3, 1-2 or 1-2, 1-2-3) – instead of in Salsa rhythm. We noticed the kids in Puerto Rico dancing this way. It is easier, slows down the movement and turns every measure of the music into a game. It Africanizes your motion (flatter, more grounded step), provides beautiful natural accents, and gives room for much more. It encourages upper-lower body separation. We noticed that Hip-Hop pop-locking flows naturally out of Rumba clave. It gets you. It moves you.
Pedrito Martínez and Roman Díaz are among NYC’s leading Rumberos.
In Cuba, Jennyselt Galata is a guardian of Rumba social traditions. Her home is a famous reservoir of African Diaspora religious traditions. She runs a beautiful school that is growing the next generation of Rumba dancers. Instagram @jennygalata
PS: The American Rumba ballroom dance has nothing to do with this.
Daymé Arocena is a great Jazz singer in the Rumba tradition who visits. In Cuba, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is one of the most famous Rumba bands.
In the 1940s-50s, Chano Pozo, Miguelito Valdés and Mongo Santamaría were important Rumberos in NYC.
The Deepest Roots
Colonizers claim everything as their own, but rumba doesn’t come from Spain. It’s easy to say that rumba is African, but it is one step removed from Mother Africa. The oldest drums in Cuba were indeed made by Africans, but rumba is the music of their children. It is Cuban.
A lot of human culture originates at home in traditions of faith, family, community and love. Rumba derives from beautiful Afro-Cuban religions such as Santería, but is purely secular. Many rumba musicians are also priests, but a rumba is just a party. Watch though, many drummers pray in private before they perform, and even secular dancers consider the dance circle (the “batey” in Puerto Rico) to be sacred space.
Today we associate congas (tumbadores) with rumba and Latin music, but rumba was originally played on boxes (cajones) or whatever was at hand, including the wall. The tradition appears in the 1880s after the end of human slavery, but before it was done at home in secret. Congas only appear in the early 1900s.
Cuban rumba has many traditions, but the three main arcs are guaguancó, yambú and columbia.
Guaguancó is a playful couples dance in which the man tries to “vacunao” (inject) the woman with his movements, while she avoids him. He mesmerizes her with slick dancing to provide cover for a hip thrust, flick of his hand or pointing of his toe. She jumps out of the way or covers herself with her hands or clothes. It’s good natured fun.
Yambú is a gentle couples dance that is very sensual, but danced with the slow moves of old people. You may see the man dancing with a cane.
Columbia is a dancer’s competition. There is a lot of shoulder movement and the dancer challenges the quinto, the lead drum, to match their movements. Dancers can get very expressive. Bomba Puertorriqueña is similar and somehow related.
David Oquendo & Friends play Afro-Cuban rumba in the Bronx Music Hall Plaza outdoors at Bronx Commons on Sun, Oct 17 at 1pm. Free. Facebook @bxmusic 🇨🇺
Pedrito Martinez plays Cuban rumba at Drom in the East Village on Thu, Oct 28 at 8pm (7pm doors). Tickets $30. 🇨🇺