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Since the 1930's, music has been Cuba's hottest and most welcome export. Cuban groups and recordings traveled and were distributed around the world; and their rhythms, dances and instrumentation were globally adopted and adapted. Puerto Rican and Dominican musicians, whose traditions derive from the same roots, were most strongly influenced; and the contemporary forms of Salsa and Merengue can be traced to these same sources. Cuban-style music is found everywhere. It is sung with lyrics diverse as Spanish, English, French, African languages and even Japanese and Finnish. Cuban music continues to be a catalyst and a resource in the ongoing evolution of Jazz and Rock.

Cuba and Latin America's Hispanic traditions were composed of many different influences: European (French, German and Celtic), North African (Moorish) and Gypsy. When Spanish settlers from this variety of traditions came to the new world, they absorbed, incorporated and assimilated each others music, dances, instruments and rhythms. Some of their musical forms include: zapateado, zarzuela, religious and processional music and songs. The colonists and the Africans adapted their instruments to materials available for their construction and also incorporated Native American instruments.

European dance styles evolved from folk, court and social traditions which featured intricate footwork, partnering and step patterns. The African dances were derived from ritual ceremonies and folk traditions in which the whole body moves in syncopated rhythms with steps and gestures used to imitate forces of nature or to dramatize the stories of deities and historical events. The combined forms which evolved in Cuba (Rumba, Son, Mambo) incorporate partnering, intricate footwork patterns, syncopated rhythms and uninhibited body movements.

Despite many obstacles, African cultural traditions survived in Cuba. Some were passed on and practiced in secret. Some were reintroduced or revitalized by new arrivals from Africa and other Caribbean islands. The African cultures most prevalent in Cuba include:

Over centuries of interaction and intermarriage, African and European music and dance merged into new combinations and forms. The most popular of these is the Rumba; a word which describes both the art form and its joyous, festive-style performance. The lyrics address romantic and topical themes, and the singer, backed up by a chorus (which sometimes includes the whole audience) improvises on controversial subjects. The rhythm, and the wooden sticks on which it is played, is called Clave: this is the rumba's heart beat. There are several varieties of rumba:

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