Estimated read time: 10 minutes
This article is part of a four-part saga about timba history and development.
Timba is a genre of contemporary Cuban dance music, which innovatively summarizes the entire unique cultural heritage of the nation and merges it with influences from the western music genres. When exploring this heritage, it reaches deep into the roots of African and European ancestors, draws inspiration from the Cuban folklore as well as imported music styles without preconceptions, such as reggaeton, funk, rock, etc. Regardless of influences, it remains distinctly Caribbean and uniquely Cuban music.
Complex, but danceable and upbeat
Furthermore, timba is one of the richest, most sophisticated, and dynamic contemporary popular music genres. While most popular music can be performed by amateur musicians, timba requires a high degree of virtuosity, ability to improvise, and years of rehearsal. Timba can both satisfy an average Joe seeking simplicity, as well as the most demanding professional's heart, looking for complexity.
Band and song structure
Timba bands are the size of small orchestras, numbering around 15 in strength, which makes the music quite saturated. The song structure typically avoids the verse-chorus form, but instead implements a more diverse structure where the tension is built using the form resembling a dramatic arc. The songs typically begin with the narrative part, where the story slowly develops. In the montuno section that follows, the song achieves its climax, where the music becomes very lively with a great deal of cunning improvisation.
Montuno is usually the longest part of the song that gives the dancers a proper chance to show off. Finally, a falling action is followed by denouement. These song segments can be further divided into so called ‘gears’, which define the energy level of a song part. Dancers learn to recognize the song parts, so that they can respond with the energy and movements appropriate for the intensity of the song part.
Frontmen typically signal gear changes to the instrumentalists using a set of agreed upon hand gestures, shouts, or otherwise. The song evolution continues even after the album is released. Inventive improvisation enables the bands to form new song parts during live performances, so each song can sound quite differently on each performance. Live gigs often reach the climax when bands invite professional dances to the stage. Together with the band they worship either the female bodies or the divine beings of Santeria.
Timba was invented in the end of 80's and the beginning of 90's, peaking in popularity at around 1995. These days timba might not be as popular as it once was, but is actually a constantly developing music genre gaining in quality and soaking in ever more influences. Timba is always aligned with trends, but never falls prey to them.
In this series of articles we will present how timba came into existence through social, economic, and political circumstances, and through musical innovations after the Cuban revolution. We will explore its rise and its fall in the 90's. The last article will be dedicated to the modern timba, which is being revived by musicians and dance instructors all over the world. But, when searching for the roots of timba, one can always trace them further back into the history, to the times of indigenous civilizations, Christopher Columbus, the slave trade, and Africa.
Continued in Part 2.