Rumba for Fidel: Cubans Celebrate Music, Culture and Revolution

Cuban rumba has roots in African culture and historically has developed in some of the island’s poorest and most marginalized neighborhoods.

Cuban rumba performers dedicated a day of music and dance Sunday to late Cuban President Fidel Castro as they celebrated the recent announcement that rumba, one of the country’s most iconic musical genres, has been added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

“Rumba for Fidel,” as the Sunday’s events were dubbed, brought together stars of Cuban rumba in the capital city Havana, while other events in other cities also echoed the celebrations on smaller stages.

Amid singing, drumming and dancing, rumba artists also commemorated Fidel Castro’s legacy, which they said included a revolution of the concept of cultural policy on the island in the early years after the fall of the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

The celebration of Cuban rumba, which has its deepest roots in African culture and has historically developed in some of the island’s poorest neighborhoods, comes after UNESCO declared the traditional music part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during a meeting in Ethiopia on Nov. 30.

UNESCO recognized Cuban rumba as an expression of “self-esteem and resistance,” especially for a “marginal layer of Cuban society and identity,” that fuses the traditional and contemporary in a genre built on “verbal and nonverbal” heritage.

“The dances and chants evoke a sense of grace, sensuality and joy that aims to connect people, regardless of their social and economic background, gender or ethnicity,” explains UNESCO. “The practice of rumba in Cuba has been transmitted over generations by imitation within families and neighborhoods.”

The UNESCO announcement on Nov. 30 came while Cuba observed nine days of official mourning for the former president and as his ashes traveled across the country from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, where his remains were interred alongside national heroes.

Fidel Castro was particularly popular among Afro-Cubans, who greatly benefited from his advances in universal education, health care and the reduction of extreme poverty.

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