The European influence on Cuba’s later musical development is represented by danzón, an elegant musical form that was once more popular than the son in Cuba. It is a descendent of the creollized Cuban contradanza. The danzón marks the change from the communal sequence dance style of the late 18th century to the couple dances of later times. The stimulus for this was the success of the once-scandalous walz, where couples danced facing each other, independently from other couples and not as part of a pre-set structure. The danzón was the first Cuban dance to adopt such methods, though there is a difference between the two dances. The walz is a progressive ballroom dance where couples move round the floor in an anti-clockwise direction; the danzón is a ‘pocket-handkerchief’ dance where a couple stays within a small area of the floor.

The danzón was developed, according to one’s point of view, either by Manuel Saumell or by Miguel Faílde in Matanzas, the official date of origin being 1879. Failde’s was an orquesta típica, a form derived from military bands, using brass, kettle-drums &c. The later development of the charanga was more suited to the indoor salon and is an orchestral format still popular today in Cuba and some other countries. The charanga uses double bass, cello, violins, flute, piano, paila criolla and güiro. This change in instrumental set-up is illustrated in Early Cuban bands.

From time to time in its ‘career’, the danzón acquired African influences in its musical structure. It became more syncopated, especially in its third part. The credit for this is given to José Urfé, who worked elements of the son into the last part of the danzón in his composition El bombin de Barreto (1910). Both the danzón and the charanga line-up have been strongly influential in later developments.

The danzón was exported to popular acclaim throughout Latin America, especially Mexico. It is now a relic, both in music and in dance, but its highly orchestrated descendents live on in charangas that Faílde and Urfé would likely not recognize. Juan Formell has had a huge influence through his reorganization of first Orquesta Revé, and later Los Van Van.


Early danzons were purely instrumental. The first to introduce a vocal part was Aniceto Diaz in 1927 in Matanzas: Rompiendo la rutina. Later, the black singer Barbarito Diez joined the charanga of Antonio María Romeu in 1935 and, over the years, recorded eleven albums of danzonetes. All later forms have included vocals.