Timba combines contemporary son with Salsa and hip-hop influences. However, it happened almost exactly at the same time as the período especial (“special period”). During this period Cuba, had been closed off and had a lot going on. When Cuba opened to the world again, the Cuban government invested into tourism and so, Europeans and North Americans started to go to Havana.
These tourist brought new influences and trends that Cubans had not had the opportunity to hear. Music that you could dance to was suddenly of interest. So, in the early 1990s, the Afro-Cuban composer José Luís Cortés, part of the music group NG La Banda, put together a sort of “dance” music. It combined these new influences, jazz aesthetics and an extremely high performance standard.
His songs carried references to Afro-Cuban musical forms, and used black slang to tell stories about everyday life in the barrios (black neighbourhoods). At a time of dramatic transformations – with the beginning of período especial – this music seemed able to give hope and social change. Not only was the first composer Afro-Cuban, but its music and sound was based on drums and Afro-Cuban percussion.
Also, the musical structure derived from son and rumba; a melodic, narrative part followed by a call-and-response section. The first part was sung by a solo singer and resembled a song or ballad. The second one contained alternations of coros (choral refrains) and guías (semi-improvised responses by a singer). Needless to say, this second section was, and is, the most lively and catchy part of songs.
In terms of the dance, it can be said that Timba is the maximum expression of the dancer. Depending on the specific rhythm of the song they listen (the lyrics, the chorus, percussion…), they will dance in one way or another. When the song turns into a more rhythmic part, the dancers are no longer together. They dance separately and do movements of rumba but also mixed with hip-hop and other music influences.
It is said that timba is the higher state of salsa. It is a mixture of rhythms that has given birth to a very distinct Cuban rhythm.
In the words of Mayito, a member of the band Los Van Van:
“We call “timba” the way to do the download, the way of playing. This comes from the percussion and the complexity of the rumba. When you insert the pianos and all the other instruments, we are integrating in the timba, giving it a Cubanism that makes us different from other latin salseros”Mayito, Los Van Van