Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.
By Jack Tomas
Of all the different kinds of popular Cuban music, nothing comes as close to straight up African as the rumba. You have drums, percussion instruments, and voices. That’s it. When the Afro-Cubans were slaves they didn’t have any “real” instruments besides drums that they made themselves. Gathered together in the Afro-Cuban society clubs known as cabildos, these proud but enslaved people kept the flame of their African heritage alive. No one has done that better in the last 60 years as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas formed in 1954. Most of the members were related to each other through the Alfonso family. The majority of the band belong to the Abakua secret society. The Abakua have their own secret rhythms and songs, that are fun to dance to for non-initiates, but have secret meaning for members. They are one of the most successful rumba acts of all time. They were even nominated for a Grammy. Their songs are both in Spanish and African dialects like Yoruba and Fon. Los Muñequitos are about as close as you can get to the magical incantations of Santeria and Abakua without risking possession by an Orisha.
After 60 years, Los Muñequitos are still going strong. The members of the band now span three generations of the same family. They travel all around the world spreading and educating audiences about Cuban folkloric music. I saw them when they played in New York at the Cuban festival. Their show had costumed dancers playing out stories and ceremonies from the Afro-Cuban tradition. And, like I said, they are awesome to dance to.