Son cubano is a style of music and dance that originated in Cuba and gained worldwide popularity during the 1930s. Son combines the structure and feel of the Spanish canción with Afro-Cuban traits and percussion. The Cuban son is one of the most influential and widespread forms of Latin-American music: its derivatives and fusions, including salsa, have spread across the world.
The word Son (one of the words that translates to English ‘rhythm’ from Spanish) has also been used in other musical styles of Spanish-speaking countries. For example, in Mexico the Son Jarocho of Veracruz and the Son Huasteco of the Sierra Huasteca constitute distinct popular musical genres and are not related to the Cuban Son.
Due to the lack of proper documentation it is not possible to determine exactly when and where the origin of Cuban son took place. The rural rumbitas and proto-sones, considered to be the earliest manifestations of what was going to be called son at a later time, emerged throughout the entire territory of the Island from the West corner to the East corner, and at least three of their modalities have been preserved until our present time in places such as Isle of Pines (Sucu-Sucu), Ciego de Avila (Rumbitas) and Guantanamo, Oriente (Changüí). (Refer to proto-son in the article Music of Cuba)
Son is a relatively recent musical invention. Cuban historians and musicologists no longer believe that it is related to the “Son de la Ma Teodora,” a popular Cuban tune attributed by Alejo Carpentier to Teodora Ginés, a singer at Santiago de Cuba during the XVI Century.
In spite of a traditional tendency to attribute the origin of Cuban son to the Eastern region of Cuba (Oriente), most recently, some musicologists have shown a more inclusive stance. Although Alejo Carpentier, Emilio Grenet and Cristóbal Díaz Ayala support the “Eastern origin” theory, Argeliers León doesn’t mention anything about it in his pivotal work “Del Canto y del Tiempo”, as well as María Teresa Linares in “The Music between Cuba and Spain.” Danilo Orozco also shows a more open position when he says: “… This way, hundreds of Eastern territories have a great generative objective importance – but not exclusive – and this comprises the early rural-urban interrelation”, and Ramadamés Giro states about this subject: “If Son was an artistic phenomenon that was developing since the second half of the 19th century – and not just in the old Oriente (Eastern) province -, it is logical to suppose, but not to affirm, that long before 1909 it was heard in the Capital City (Havana) because of the aforementioned reasons…”
An expert in the contradanza subject, musicologist Peter Manuel, proposes a well documented theory asserting that great deal of the Son’s structure originated from the contradanza in Havana around the second half of the 19th century. The contradanza included many of the traits that are shown in the son, such as melodies in parallel thirds “duet” form, the presence of a suggested clave rhythm, implicit short vocal refrains borrowed from popular songs, distinctive syncopations, as well as the “two part” song form of and the ostinato section known as montuno.