My Favorite Cuban Instrument

Written by Sophia Bass

When walking through the streets of Old Havana, you may notice a variety of instruments being played by Cuban street musicians. Guitar, bongos, upright bass, and the clave are just a few of the many instruments utilized by Cuban musicians. As a songwriter and musician, I was most familiar with the clave as I grew up playing the Cuban instrument in my home.

Claves are one of the most useful instruments for composition in Cuban music. They are comprised of two wooden sticks that are cylindrical in shape. You play the clave by striking them against each other. Originating in the 16th century, the clave was invented by musician Fernando Ortiz. I learned that the clave has historical significance as it was first instrument used to accompany the songs of Hispanic and African dock workers in Havana.

When I was in Havana in 2017, a local musician in Vedado explained that the clave is used to track time signatures, stabilize harmony, and to perform precise patterns. The clave is my favorite instrument in Cuba as it is essential to the rhythm and melody of each song. It became popular in Rumba in the 19th century and was incorporated into urban Cuban music in the 20th century.

As I was sitting at Cafe Efe in Vedado watching contemporary  Cuban musicians serenade the crowd, one of the percussionists invited me to accompany them by playing the clave. I was thrilled that they trusted me to play the clave with them. I felt that Cuban musicians wanted to share their music with travelers and were always open to sharing the stage.

I highly recommend traveling to Cuba to experience Havana's rich music scene.

For trip dates and itineraries, check out our website Soltura Cuba Travel  


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