Updated: Mar 7, 2021
No this is not double- or triple-talk. It’s simply a fact that Rumba refers to three distinct types of music. Rumba can refer to a ballroom-rumba dance; Guaguancó, a traditional Afro-Cuban rumba; and Rumba Flamenca from Spain and France, made famous by the Gipsy Kings.
As a ballroom dance, rumba qualifies as one of the five competitive International Latin dances, the paso doble, samba, cha-cha-cha, and jive being the others. This ballroom rumba was derived from a Cuban rhythm and dance called the Bolero-Son. In the early 1930s, a song called El Manicero, also known as The Peanut Vendor, became an international sensation and started a Cuban music craze. The record label mistakenly categorized The Peanut Vendor as a rumba (it was actually a Son Bolero) and also misspelled it Rhumba. The misnomer led to all Cuban music being perceived as rumba in the US.
On the other hand, the Afro-Cuban rumba is entirely different from the ballroom rumba, both in rhythm and dance style.
Guaguancó, a popular Cuban rumba, uses a fast tempo and intense percussion section made up of three congas, clave, guagua (a hollowed piece of bamboo), and shekere. The Guaguancó includes a narrative song pattern that often begins with the soloist singing a phrase for the backup singers to echo and a motif for dancers to perform their sensuous moves.
The third rumba, Rumba Flamenca, was developed through the influence of the Afro-Cuban rumba. Brought back to Spain from Cuba in the 19th century, and it incorporated Spanish guitars, hand claps, body slaps, castanets, and cajon (box drums).
This style of flamenco music gained worldwide popularity in the 1950s and '60s through pop stars like Peret, Carmen Amaya, Paco de Lucia, and Tomatito. The Rumba Flamenca’s recognition in the US is due largely to the music of the Gipsy Kings.
So, the next time you hear someone say “Hey look, they’re dancing the rumba,” you can respond with “Are you referring to the rumba, rumba, or rumba?”