All You Need To Know About Cuban Son & Son Montuno

Cuban son tornillo Step by carlos

All You Need To Know About Cuban Son & Son Montuno

All You Need To Know About Cuban Son & Son Montuno  – Cuban Son, a cultural and heritage from Cuba. A music and dance that influenced so many other style of latin dances. All in class & Elegance! In this article, we will talk about the origins of the dance, how it influenced so many other style of dances and also share some of our amazing Dance tutorials for you to learn the basics of Son Cubano! Hoping to share culture, dance and passion to you all. 

What Is Son Cubano?

Son Cubano (also called Cuban Son, and literally translated as “Cuban Sound”)  is a music genre that was born in the highlands of eastern Cuba. It blends European and African instruments and musical customs. 

Spanish Instruments found in Cuban Son:

  • Guitar or Tres ( a small Cuban guitar with three pairs of strings)
  • Vocales
Guitar tres Cuban Son
Guitar (left), Cuban Guiro (Centre), Tres (on the right)

African Instruments found in Cuban Son

  • Bongos
  • Congas
  • Timbales
  • Claves
  • And more

Those instruments can be traced back to the Bantu region of Central Africa and some from West Africa.

Clave Cubana
Claves Cubana
conga and bongo cuban son
Conga & Bongo in Matenzas

The bongo drums likely originated in the Congo region of Africa, where they were used in religious ceremonies and other traditional practices.

The conga drums are believed to have originated in Cuba, but they have African roots. Specifically, they may have developed from a type of drum called the makuta, which was used in the Congo region of Africa.

The timbales are a percussion instrument with a history that spans several cultures and regions, including Africa, Cuba, and Spain. They are believed to have originated in West Africa, where they were used in traditional music and religious ceremonies.

Claves are a percussion instrument consisting of two wooden sticks that are struck together. They have a long history in various African cultures, where they were used in traditional music and dance. The specific origins of claves are not well-known, but they are believed to have originated in West Africa.

All You Need To Know About Cuban Son & Son Montuno 1

Cuban Son is also a dance Style

Cuban son dance is a social dance that is typically performed to the music of the son Cubano genre. It is a popular partner dance that originated in Cuba in the early 20th century and has since spread to many other parts of the world.

The dance is characterized by its smooth and flowing movements, using the space to travel. This give a very ballroom dancing feels to the dance. Smooth and flowing movements are meant to reflect the rhythms and melodies of the music. The basic steps of the dance involve a combination of side-to-side and back-and-forth movements, often accompanied by turns and spins.

Cuban son dance evolved from earlier Cuban dance styles, including the danzón and the rumba. It was heavily influenced by the music and dance styles of West African and European cultures, which had a significant presence in Cuba during the early 20th century.

Cuban Son influenced a lot of other dances, such as Cuban Salsa (called Casino), Rueda de Casino, Cha Cha Cha and many others!

Check out our Cuban Salsa Tutorial For Beginners (& Online Videos tutorial)

A short history of Cuban Son , Son Cubano and Son Montuno

Origins Of Son Cubano

Son Cubano emerged as a genre of music in Cuba’s Oriente province, specifically in the Sierra Maestra region. Its roots can be traced back to various folkloric styles such as rhumba, changüí, nengón, kiribá, and regina that were an integral part of the cultural heritage of Cubans with Bantu origins from central Africa.

Son Cubano has its roots in the fusion of African rhythms brought to Cuba by enslaved people and the Spanish guitar and vocal harmonies introduced by Spanish colonizers. The genre first emerged in the early 20th century in the eastern part of Cuba, particularly in the provinces of Oriente and Guantanamo.


Depending on where you were living on the island, you would experience a different influence. Spanish culture had a dominant influence in regions where tobacco was grown. Many of the farmers were from Spain and the Canary Islands. Meanwhile, in sugar cane growing areas, the majority of workers were slaved that were brought from West and Central Africa in the mid-1800s.

Upon their arrival, the enslaved people formed “cabildos” or religious brotherhoods, preserving the religious and secular dances of Yoruba, Fon, Ejagham, and Kongo-Angola. They then kept their dance (which is an homage to their god) in secret.

Spanish & African Cultures

Emergence of Cuban Son

As Bantu Cubans migrated from the eastern highlands to Havana, they came into contact with West African Cubans. It was in Havana, the nation’s capital, where the fusion of various African musical traditions with those from Spain gave rise to the form of son Cubano that we know today. The city of Matanzas, located east of Havana, also played a significant role in the development of son Cubano, as well as the rumba genre.

The evolution of Son Cubano can be attributed to the incorporation of popular Havana musical styles such as guaracha, bolero, and mambo. The genre gained even more popularity in Havana with the emergence of influential Cuban bandleaders like Arsenio Rodriguez and Beny Moré, as well as the bands Sexteto Habanero and Septeto Nacional. Their contributions helped to establish Son Cubano as a beloved genre of Cuban music.

Evolution Of Cuban Son

Influence of Cuban Son

Son Cubano’s impact on Latin music has been significant, as evidenced by its influence on musical genres such as danzón and cha-cha-cha. The genre also found its way into the nightlife scene of New York City, where it contributed to the evolution of Latin American music. By the mid-twentieth century, notable American musicians, including Duke Ellington and Tito Puente, were drawn to the unique sound of Son Cubano and began incorporating it into their musical repertoire, introducing it to a wider audience.

Interesting elements regarding Cuban Son Dance:

  • Close position is a predominant position in Son Cubano. Whether it is Traditional Cuban Son or Son Montuno.
  • An elegant dance. Cuban Son really give that vibe of a respectful and traditional dance from the older days. It is not about showing off your body movement and give a dirty dancing kind of look. At the opposite, it reflect the older days where elegance and strong posture and frame were the norm.
  • The man still show off his skills by using figures and moves like Tornillo. We will talk about this move a bit bellow.

Son Cubano Para Bailar (Musica | cuban son Music to dance and practice)

David Alvarez – Cantando una pena

Some Other Son Cubano Songs to  practice your  Cuban Son dance:

  1. “El Cuarto de Tula” by Buena Vista Social Club
  2. “Chan Chan” by Compay Segundo
  3. “Son de la Loma” by Trio Matamoros
  4. “El Carretero” by Guillermo Portabales
  5. “Pare Cochero” by Joseíto Fernández.

There is so many more amazing artists and songs, but we just added some of our favourite here. 

But this list wouldn’t be possible without mentioning Conjunto Son de La Loma.

Interesting fact: The earliest known recording of Son Cubano dates back to 1918, and the genre quickly gained popularity throughout Cuba and beyond. Its influence can be heard in many other Latin American and Caribbean musical styles, including salsa, timba, and son montuno.

5 Characteristics of Son Cubano

Son Cubano draws on various musical traditions from both Cuba and other Latin American countries, incorporating elements such as:

  1. Bell patterns: Handheld claves are played by percussionists to create distinctive bell patterns, which other instrumentalists often incorporate into their playing.
  2. African rhythms: Many African rhythms have influenced the music of Cuba and are frequently featured in son songs.
  3. Montunos: A type of ostinato pattern often played on the piano, montunos are a common feature of son music, with the sub-genre of son montuno placing a particular emphasis on this technique.
  4. Fusion with other genres: Son Cubano has been blended with a range of other genres, including rumba, danzonete, Afro-son, bolero-son, Congolese rhumba, guajira-son, charanga, songo, and timba, resulting in a diverse range of musical styles.
  5. The use of call-and-response vocals, where a lead singer sings a phrase that is answered by a chorus of other singers or the audience. This creates an interactive and participatory element in the music and is a common feature of many traditional Cuban genres, including Son Cubano.
Characteristics of son cubano

14 Essential Instruments of Cuban Son

Septeto Nacional Instruments cuban son

Son Cubano ensembles, also known as son conjuntos, showcase a diverse array of instruments in their performances. While percussion sections are a hallmark of the style, other instruments are also prominent, including:

  1. Vocals, performed by soneros, or Cuban Son singers.
  2. Piano
  3. Guitar or tres, a Cuban variation on guitar.
  4. Trumpet
  5. Double bass
  6. Congas
  7. Bongos
  8. Timbales
  9. Claves
  10. Maracas
  11. Guiro
  12. Trombones
  13. Flute
  14. Marimbula

These instruments work together to create the distinctive sound of Son Cubano. While the standard ensemble is called a conjunto, Son ensembles in different regions, such as New York, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, or Haiti, may incorporate other instruments that are idiomatic to their area while still preserving the core character of a Son conjunto.

3 Essential Steps & moves of Cuban Son

Basics moves names for Cuban Son includes:

  • Side Step / Paso Basico
  • Desplazamientos (Travelling)
  • Cambio
  • Aberta (Open from close position to open position)
  • Giro de la Chica
  • Giro de Lo chico
  • Giro (both turns)

What is a typical Son Montuno & Son Cubano Dance move ?

Cuban son tornillo Step by carlos

One of the most popular and known dance step in son cubano is the use of “Tornillo“. In this step, the leader usually go down on the floor on one foot, and extend the other one extremely straight.

What Is Son Montuno?

Son montuno is a subgenre of Son Cubano that originated in the eastern part of Cuba, particularly in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo. It is characterized by its use of the montuno, a repeated piano pattern that provides a harmonic and rhythmic foundation for the song. The montuno is usually played in the latter half of the song and is accompanied by a call-and-response chorus.

Son montuno often features a larger ensemble than traditional Son Cubano, including additional percussion instruments such as the congas, timbales, and bongos, as well as a horn section with trumpets and trombones. The style became very popular in the 1930s and 1940s and has since influenced many other Latin American musical styles, including salsa and Latin jazz.

A bit of History About Cuba & Cuban Son Music and evolution

Conjunto son de la loma

In the aftermath of World War I, the city of Havana experienced an influx of wealthy tourists and white upper-class Cubans, leading to a rise in demand for nightlife. To cater to this demand, nightclubs began playing the popular music genre known as “son.” However, due to the inability of white audiences to understand the African rhythms, musicians were forced to adjust and “whiten up” the music, according to Armando Sanchez, leader of Conjunto Son de la Loma.

Two popular ensembles that emerged during this period were Sexteto Habanero and Septeto Nacional. Sexteto Habanero developed a distinct sound called “son conjunto,” featuring three voices, a string bass, a “tres” guitar, maracas, bongos, claves, trumpet, and guitar. By the late 1920s, Septeto Nacional had expanded the son style by incorporating tighter vocal harmonies, greater rhythmic complexity, and a faster tempo, leading to international popularity.

However, in the late 1930s, Arsenio Rodríguez, one of Cuba’s most celebrated musicians and composers, began reconnecting son with its African roots, moving the genre forward in the process. He emphasized and re-incorporated many of the African elements that earlier son conjuntos had omitted or simplified, such as adapting the guaguanco to the son style and introducing a cowbell and conga to the rhythm section. Rodríguez expanded the role of the tres guitar as a solo instrument and introduced a “montuno” section for melodic solos. His songs made philosophical statements about Cuba, community life, and ethnic pride, and his style became known as “son montuno,” forming the basis of the mambo craze in the 1940s and influencing Latin popular music in New York for years to come. By the 1930s, the popularity of son and mambo had spread to Puerto Rico, where musicians incorporated the style into their own music.

Always Wondered?

Which Latin Dance Is Easiest To Learn?

Check out this article to find out which  one is the easiest dance from our dance and teaching experience!

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