Rumba music can broadly be divided into four major categories depending on the origins: African, Catalan, Cuban and Flamenco.
However, all of them have their roots in the music of Central and West Africa.
The sound was shipped to the Americas during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, where if flourished in the Caribbean islands, particularly Cuba, and in Latin America.
The centre of rumba music is the Congo where it’s known as “soukous”.
That name is taken from the French word “secousse”, which means “shake”.
This is probably in homage to the vigorous dancing that is as much a feature of the music as the sound itself is.
It is from soukous where other names – kwasa kwasa and ndombolo – emerge from.
Kwasa kwasa and ndombolo, however, refer mainly to types of dances which go along with soukous.
African rumba has since spawned several celebrated artists among them Kofi Olomide, Sam Mangwana, the late Pepe Kalle, Kanda Bongoman, Franco, General Defao and Papa Wemba; as well as groups such as Extra Musica, Zaiko Langa Langa and Orchestre les Mangelepa.
In the America’s, and more specifically in Cuba, the sound that the slaves brought fused with the music of the Spanish slave masters.
The fusion of both African and Spanish rhythms became so popular at parties such that the end product became known as rumbo, which is Spanish for “party” or “drinking spree”.
Music historians generally agree that the first commercial rumba artist was Carlos Vidal Bolado.
One of the most popular earliest hits of the song was “El Manisero” or “Peanut Vendor”, which was done by Moises Simons.
Ever since it started circulating in the 1940s, “El Manisero” has been redone more than 160 times!
This probably makes it the most popular song for commercial cover versions in the whole world.
Available records indicate that it was the first song to sell over one million units on 78rpm vinyl.
While it’s still easy to define Cuban rumba, African rumba has taken many new and different styles such that it is not easy to classify its sound.
And the development of the music has not been one way only, as African rumba has adopted “zouk” from the Guadeloupe and Martinique islands of the Caribbean.
“Zouk” means party in the Antillean Creole tongue, and is derived from a Polish dance called mazurka.
In pure Creole, the music is referred as “soukwe”, which also means “shake”.
In the case of Flamenco rumba, the Spanish claim that it was originally their music that somehow ended up in Cuba, perhaps in the age of the Spanish, Portuguese and English explorers who were trying to find a sea route to the Far East.
They say they then took it back there in the 1850s at the height of the Slave Trade.
In that part of the world, rumba is referred to as “ida y vuelta”, which means “song which returned” or “was brought back”.
But even on its return leg, Flamenco rumba was still regarded as gypsy music since it carried influence of both African and Cuban rumba types.
On the other hand, Catalan rumba derived its influence from the Flamenco rumba.
It emerged from downtown Barcelona where it was very popular with the Romani communities living along the de la Cera del Raval carrer.
Like Flamenco, Catalan rumba too has Afro-Cuban influences.
It was Flamenco sub-genres that first featured guitars, castanets, congas and palmas (hand-clapping), while Catalan rumba went farther to rope in piano, wind instruments, electric bass and keyboards.