The Rumba is a combination of cultural influences from both Cuban and African cultures. It is a sensual rhythm that focuses on the intimate relationship between a man and a woman, and can typically be broken down into three unique rhythmic types: yambu, guaguanco, and columbia.
Yambu rumba is the slower style of the rhythm, imitating a gentle courtship between lovers. This rhythm was originally played on cajon drums and claves, giving it a simple sound that highlights the dance that expresses a loving relationship between two people. Occasionally, the addition of spoons as a counter rhythm would enhance the rhythm, adding depth and interest to the rhythm.
Guaguanco rumba is a faster, more sexually overt version of the rumba that demonstrates the pageantry between a man and woman during the courtship period of the relationship. The guaguanco rumba is the most controversial of the rumba dance rhythms due to its explicit sexuality and the fiery relationship between the dancers. It is also a dance competition between the man and woman, where the man claims victory as the better dancer if he succeeds in seducing the woman, and the woman is victorious if she successfully fights off the man’s advances. It is mostly played on tumbadora or conga drums, accented with claves.
The third rumba is the columbia, a solo version of the dance and rhythm that mostly features a man’s dance ability, although some women have been successful in creating a name as a rumba columbia dancer. This rhythm is more complex than the other rumbas, incorporating more ritual aspects of its cultural influences, and is considered the more folkloric of the three rumbas. The columbia rumba is also played mostly on tumbadora or conga drums, with the addition of bells as accents.
The rumba rhythm is thought to be based off the clave rhythm, a five stroke beat within a 4/4 pattern that repeats after the fourth downbeat, giving the rhythm a syncopated, swing feel. The clave rhythm, not to be confused with the clave percussion instrument, is considered the basis for most Afro-Cuban music and its importance to the genre continues to be found today in modern, Latin rhythms such as the salsa or mambo.
As a dance or rhythm, the rumba is an expression of the dynamics of the relationship between men and women, especially during courtship, whether romantic or sexual. This rhythm is complex, interesting and can engage an audience fully, or keep the momentum going during a drum circle or other musical gathering.