Cuba has had a wide range of popular culture icons such as the Cuban State and the Cuban Revolution, musicians such as Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, Celia Cruz and music groups such as Buena Vista Social Club and the Sonora Matancera. The struggles and post-colonial history of the Global South in Latin America are still visible in the way society is generally developed within those regions. Cuba, in particular, has been recognised by UNESCO for its Sustainable Development Educational System, provided the world with a vaccine for Meningitis B. Beyond the cigars, the Argentinan Che Guevara and other archetypes, Cuba is still a powerhouse of culture and a big influence of Afro-cultures in America and the world.

Background Research

Similar to Barbados, Cuba has a colonial past where the Sugar Cane Industry, as well as the tobacco industry, promoted the slave trade. Cuba has been the house of native cultures such as the taínos, as well as the guanatahabeyes and siboneyes. It was expected that around 30,000 natives habited the island. From 1970 and in only 30 years, by 1841, Cuba already passed the 1.5 million inhabitants. Such society was heavily polarised between the criollo landowners, and the rich Spanish businessmen, where below laid the wide range of free black (negros) and mulatos (mixed-afro descendants) (see Afrobits Countries), and the working-class whites. Slavery played a large role in generating inequality, which prompted many enslaved people to revolt. Such early revolutionary actions then prompted independentist movements which promoted the slavery abolition.

Cuba Trans Atlantic Slave Numbers(

Our background research focused on those historic backgrounds covering the sugar, tobacco and the diverse instruments involved to produce the Rumba, one of the most popular music genres in Cuba.


The final graphics used for this interaction point focused primarily on the bongos, arguably one of the key instruments in Rumba. Nevertheless, we wanted to highlight more modern revolutions and trends. The illustration presents modern Rumba dancers.

We used the bandana as the main icon, due to the fact that is has been used to represent revolutionary movements, such as Cuba’s independent and abolitionist movement. Nowadays, Rumba dancers around America have not only implemented the Spanish dance moves but also incorporated the bandana to the Rumba dance. Rumba can be danced in three primary forms: Columbia, Yambú and Guaguancó. All of them use the bandana, where in many cases the Columbia can also bring machetes, candles, plates and vases. All Rumba is danced in couples, where in the case of the Guaguancó, the main objective is for the man to close the way to the woman, thus closing her space, while her role is to escape from such pursue. In Guaguancó, in particular, the man tries to vaccinate (to point or prick) the woman, whilst she tries to block it. It is quite a machismo based narrative, where the bandana can also be used to vaccinate the woman. The video below shows a couple dancing Guaguancó Rumba.

Sound Track

Candela by Buena Vista Social Club

As noted previously, Rumba has a heavy percussion-based instrument base, where the vast majority were adopted from African nations. We wanted to showcase how despite the years of economic blockade, Cuba was still able to produce high quality and unique cultural outputs. The Buena Vista Social Club is the epicentre of Cuban music of the 21st Century. It is a multi-award-winning band that has managed to break social classes, race and cultural differences. It can be argued that it might be difficult to talk about Cuba without mentioning the Buena Vista Social Club.

The Buena Vista Social Club aimed to revive the music from pre-revolution times from Cuba. The song chosen is called Candela, which can be translated as ‘flame’. The song is from a genre called Son Cubano, which is the foundation of Salsa music. Here is a 30-second sample used on the installation.

Candela (© Buena Vista Social Club)

The role that the Iberic Peninsula had on Cuba, is merged through the Afro-roots of the music. From Madrid to Cataluña, bringing string and wind instruments merged with the syncopation rhythms from Rumba to Son, as well as the new migration to the United States into primarily the Florida peninsula, the Son Cubano showcases the new meaning of cultural amalgamation where Celia Cruz’s ‘azucar’ has a completely new meaning on its own right but still related culturally Cuba’s historic past.