Rumba in Context
(1) Long before the word Salsa came to refer to music, there was son, and alongside son there was rumba. While there is consensus that Cuban son is a major contributor to Salsa, setting the underlying rhythm, rumba is left out of the equation or merely referenced lexically in the occasional song title. Connections between son and rumba are only now being acknowledged as Acosta writes: “I could not decide between the rumba and the son as the most emblematic genre of our popular music: Now I look at them as more or less two sides of the same coin.” He goes on to state,
Son has shown the necessary strength and flexibility to permeate other genres: danzón, bolero, mambo, chachachá, and the whole phenomenon of salsa music. Nevertheless, the elasticity and dynamism of rumba has allowed it to permeate son since the 1920s …and 1930s…as well as its more recent tendencies: mambo, salsa, songo, timba, etc.
(2) The exclusion of rumba can also be traced to racial taxonomies as son is seen as a blending of white and black musical forms and traditions while rumba is more closely associated with Afrocuban origins. As a case in point, Carpentier, in his now classic work on Cuban music La música en Cuba (1946) elevates the son as “a metaphor for his vision of a multiracial, multicultural, but unified Cuban nation,” while simultaneously associating “’rumbas’ with idle gaity, licentious dance, female prostitution (mujeres de rumbo), and low-class Afro-Cubans.” Yet, as Salsa is a product of cultural contact in the U.S, more specifically New York City, the importance of rumba, particularly as it was appropriated and circulated between Cuba, New York and other international cultural centers, becomes more apparent.
(3) The use of the word rumba itself is somewhat polemical as it has over time come to have a wide range of meanings, from a boisterous celebration to a highly stylized form of ballroom dancing. This chapter seeks to sift through its history and contextualize it in the musical performances of two women who have, however problematically, been labeled rumberas: Rita Montaner and Celeste Mendoza. Both participated in the appropriation and re-articulation of rumba as both a term and a musical form, a process that took rumba from the streets to the nightclub and beyond Cuba to become an international phenomenon. Moreover, Montaner and Mendoza, as precursors to what would later be termed Salsa, are groundbreakers in terms their stagings of race, gender and nation, influencing directly and indirectly later performers’ innovations and revisions.
(4) To sort through the loaded usage of the term “Rumba,” we must first start by separating out “traditional rumba”—also referred to as “folkloric” or “authentic” rumba—from its commercial form (or forms). Traditional rumba originated in the urban slums in Havana and Matanzas in the mid nineteenth century. As Manuel describes, “In the absence of any European melodic and choral instruments, rumba sounds very African, and it appears to derive from secular dances cultivated by the Congolese slaves in Cuba. Urfé’s description differs in that it ascribes Bantu origins, but there is consensus that it was, and in its traditional form continues to be, performed “solely by percussion instruments and voices, and thus in an aural sense is distinctly more ‘African sounding.’” It also bears noting that rumba is as quintessentially Cuban as son. “Despite its African character, rumba (like the blues) is not a conservation of another land’s music. There is nowhere in Africa you can go and hear rumba, though you might hear things that remind you of rumba.” While there are several different types of rumba, guaguancó is by far the most popular and the type most often associated with later commercial recordings and nightclub performances. It’s no coincidence that all the performers discussed in later chapters—Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Gloria Estefan and Albita Rodríguez—have songs that have the word “guaguancó” in the title. Furthermore, guguancó is not only referenced lexically, but musically as well in salsa. Although “all-percussion rumba is rarely heard in the commercial world of salsa, it is rare to find a salsa singer or group that doesn’t at some point in the show drop into an orchestrated version of guaguancó.” 
(5) The choreography of the guaguancó is essentially “a chase, discussed in terms of a metaphor in which a rooster stalks a hen…Women dance with grace and seductiveness, but always try to avoid the vacunao,” most commonly the male’s pelvic thrust, but can also be an “elbow jab, a kick, or a swift whip of a scarf.” As Moore summarizes, because of the “overtly sexual nature of its dance choreography, and its close associations with the poorest and most socially marginalized Afrocubans in western urban areas, middle-class and elite Cuban society condemned the genre.” Manuel points out that while colonial-era white society’s denigration of rumba was based on its perceived sexual vulgarity, the perspectives of African and Afrocuban contemporaries were overlooked. “Accounts suggest that many contemporary Africans felt the same way about European couple dances, as in traditional African dancing men and women would rarely touch each other.” It is ironic that although guaguancó is the form of rumba most appropriated both lexically and rhythmically by the mainstream, “it was rarely if ever recorded commercially in its traditional form until the 1960’s.” Ambivalence toward traditional rumba has historically ranged from open and aggressive hostility as in the enactment of laws against drum playing and certain forms of dance in the late nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, to grudging acceptance as a “folkloric” and autochthonous expression with the rise of the Afrocubanist movement in the 1920s and 30s. Even after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, public performances of traditional rumba have either been merely tolerated or appropriated and institutionalized by the state.
(6) By mid nineteenth century and onward to the beginning of the twentieth century, the term rumba appears in various musical compositions “to evoke images of revelry and sexual abandon” with little or no connection to the “musical characteristics of noncommercial rumba”; which is not to say that the term ceased to refer more directly to identifiable musical forms. Rather, “’Rumba’ as a complex linguistic sign is perhaps best understood as comprised of both specific associations with music and dance styles and broad, historically derived associations with Cuba’s black underclass, their lifestyles, attitudes, and culture.” By the 1920s and 30s, rumba is referenced both lexically and to some extent rhythmically in the Cuban musical theatre genres of teatro vernáculo and zarzuela as well as cabaret acts and it is in these decades that the history of rumba becomes intertwined with the career of Rita Montaner.
Rita Montaner, Staging Race, Gender and Nation
(7) Born Rita Aurelia Fulcida Montaner y Facenda in 1900, her birth and death (1958) coincide with the period of Cuban history between Independence and the Revolution. A singer, pianist, stage and film actress, she was referred to as “Rita de Cuba” or simply “La Única.” Her father was white, a pharmacist who provided the family middle-class status, and her mother was mixed race or mulata. Although she received a privileged education in religious schools, spoke English, Italian and French, and received formal musical training in piano and voice at the Conservatory in Havana, Montaner was also exposed to and participated in Afrocuban musical and religious practices such as Santería. She was initiated in the religion months before her death but was a practitioner, in one way or another, her whole life. This is notable in that it demonstrates Montaner’s knowledge of Afrocuban cultural traditions through lived experience. This connection to Afrocuban cultural and religious expression will also be seen in other performers such as La Lupe—discussed in Chapter Four—and Celeste Mendoza who make overt references to Santería and were also initiates, as well as Celia Cruz, who although not a practitioner, recorded sacred music. The other performers discussed in this study, Albita Rodríguez and Gloria Estefan, also make references to Santería religious practices although they are neither initiates nor have they recorded sacred music. The presence of Santería, whether it take the form of a mere echo or a direct appeal, is an understudied element within salsa music in general as well as Cuban music more specifically. That these female performers reference it consistently, as well as how they individually incorporate it sheds light on the musical traces of Afrocuban spiritual practices, their survival over time and what they evoke for listeners.
(8) Montaner’s musical career began in 1922 and by 1926 she was performing in New York with the Schubert Follies at the Apollo Theatre. While she certainly garnered fame in Cuba, her international reach would make her a leading figure in the popularization of Cuban music off the island. Between 1927 and 1929 she recorded over fifty songs for Columbia Records and performed in Paris for the first time, appearing in Josephine Baker’s Revue. In 1931 she performed on Broadway under contract to Al Jolson in the musical The Wonder Bar. Her reach also permeated toward Latin America, playing in Mexico City for the first time in 1933. She would also go on to appear in fifteen films, most of which can be classified as “cine de rumberas” or “rumbera films.”
(9) Montaner’s early career in the 1920s and 1930s was as a singer and actress in Cuban teatro vernáculo, also known as teatro bufo or teatro de variedades. In terms of content and form, the genre bears similarities to vaudeville and minstrel shows. Although “the genre as a distinct entity and the parody of blacks and black street culture with which it is associated have their origin in the mid-nineteenth century,” the genre reached its heyday in Cuba in the 1920s and 30s, typically consisting of musical numbers, short silent films and comic sketches. As with Montaner, other musical performers as well as composers that would go on to become international recording and nightclub stars got their start in these venues. The comic sketches relied on stock, stereotypical race-based characters, most commonly that of the “negrito, or comic black man, the mulata, or light skinned black woman, and the gallego, or Spanish shopkeeper-businessman”. The symbolically loaded figure of the mulata is discussed more fully in Chapter Four, but it is worth noting that in teatro vernáculo, the representation of la mulata is garnered from earlier artistic portrayals, including musical portrayals, as “object of sexual desire, the epitome of wanton carnal pleasure.” It is also worth noting that Montaner’s breakout role in 1927 in La niña Rita o La Habana en 1830 was not as the stereotypic mulata, but as the “negro calesero” or slave coachman. Because, “as in North American minstrel shows, Afrocuban characters in the Cuban theater were played by white actors who darkened their skin by using a combination of burnt cork and glycerine,” Montaner played the calesero in blackface. Her role, then, “combined alteration of gender and racial identification,” which as Moore point out “alludes to the semiotic complexity of Cuban theatrical performances and their many possible meanings for audience members.” 
(10) This particular performance was by no means the only role Montaner played in blackface, nor was it her only role cross-dressing as a black, male character. As a light skinned Afrocuban woman, the only role that she could have played without “darkening up” would have been the hyper-sexualized mulata; yet, the roles she was given were often the negra, or black older woman, or Afrocuban male roles. Thomas notes that “Montaner’s performance of the negro calesero, and the overwhelming popularity with which it was received, further complicates the meaning of blackness as it was represented and reproduced for white consumption. Not only was black skin a mask that actors donned in the performance of the negrito, but in this case so was the characters very sex.” It foregrounds the performative nature of race and gender and Montaner’s own negotiations within imposed, social parameters. As Arrizón notes,
In theater, the black body and the female role have received similar discriminatory treatment. In the Cuban stage, the entry of the black body—white performing as black—was affected by racism; in the history of theater, the entry of the woman was generally shaped by sexism and patriarchy. For example, in the Shakespearean era, women were not allowed to perform on stage, and , therefore, men had to perform women’s roles.
(11) It is interesting to note that Montaner’s performance as the “negro calesero” disrupts the usual “masks,” even as it was affected by the very factors Arrizón describes. While it was common to have white bodies perform as black, Montaner as a mulata was neither black nor white while embodying both. Yet, she performs in blackface. In terms of gender performance, the more common masking of the female body is having male bodies perform as female while Montaner’s performance was the reverse.
(12) Montaner’s role as the calesero in the zarzuela La niña Rita is also notable in that it cemented her influence within Cuban music as well as her role in the popularization of rumba in particular. The final number, sung by Montaner for the first time, was Eliseo Grenet’s “Ay Mama Inés,” a song that would become “one of the classics in Cuban repertoire,” and “the theme song for the ‘Rumba Craze’ that swept Europe, the United States, and Cuba itself, earning the title ‘the greatest of all Cuban rumbas.’” Ironically, the song is not actually a rumba at all, but rather a tango-congo making it emblematic of the appropriation and rearticulation of rumba as it made its way from an Afrocuban underclass artistic expression to an international phenomenon and commodity. That its first recognizable standard, “Ay Mama Inés,” was written by a white composer and first performed by a mulata playing an Afrocuban male in blackface captures the complexity of the musical genre’s layers of transformation. The fact that Urfé has documented that the song, attributed to Grenet, is actually based on a song originally composed and sung by Afrocuban farm workers in the early twentieth century adds deeper layers of transformation. The song was further appropriated and transformed by being recorded with English lyrics as “Mama Inez” in 1931. Curiously, it became a hit performed by Maurice Chevalier, singing in his distinctive French-accented English. It is also notable that as the song moved from Spanish to English, the clear racial references that define the song’s lyrics are erased in the English version, further and more definitively “whitening” it.
(13) Casting Montaner as the calesero marked a departure from her earlier performances. Classically trained in voice, she had previously performed operettas and Cuban compositions associated with “high” as opposed to “popular” culture. In contrast, “Ay Mamá Inés’” lyrics are in caricatured black vernacular or “lenguaje bozal” as in the lines of its repeated chorus “todo lo negro tomamo café” [all us black folk drink coffee]. The lines use phonetic spelling of the caricatured vernacular, clipping the “s” from the words. The song epitomizes a style favored by white composers influenced by the growing Afrocubanista movement popular at the time among intellectuals and artists in the visual and literary arts. It also participates in the broader trend of mining artistic expressions produced within a black, marginalized underclass for consumption by elites. As such, it offers a case study in the appropriation of black music in Cuba and how it circulates outward to become emblematic of the “national” and is re-appropriated and transformed through cultural contact. Given that Salsa music is born in the “contact zone” that is New York City, it is fitting to locate a song like “Ay Mama Inés,” and by extension Montaner, as a precursor who paved the way for other musical performers, including women. That she was the first to perform this song further cements the matrilineal heritage of Salsa music and Montaner as a matriarch in that lineage.
(14) Montaner was also a key figure in the popularization of another song that would become emblematic of Cuban music on and off the island: “El manicero” or “The Peanut Vendor.” The song was first recorded in New York in 1930 by Manchín, notably the first black singer to perform with a white band in Havana’s Casino Nacional. Although the song was written by Moisés Simons in 1922, it was originally an instrumental piece. Montaner herself wrote the lyrics for it a few years later. She performed the song in the Cuban film El romance del palmar (1938), but it was her earlier performance of the song in 1931 in Al Jolson’s The Wonder Bar that popularized it among American audiences who delighted in Montaner’s performance as much as Al Jolson’s distributing paper cones full of roasted peanuts while she sang. The song is still popular with audiences as emblematic of Cuban music. Celeste Mendoza also recorded a version of it and Albita Rodríguez still includes it in her nightclub performances. Montaner’s close association with both “Ay Mama Inés” and “El manicero” made her a prominent ambassador of Cuban music and no doubt played a key role in popularizing it in the United States, setting the stage, figuratively and literally, for the “Rumba Craze” as well as the incorporation of a “Latin sound” in American big band music.
(15) Montaner was by no means the sole performer driving the “Rumba Craze.” “Early international rumba stars were predominantly white, relatively wealthy, and in most cases had been conservatory trained as instrumentalists and/or vocalists.” Montaner fits perfectly within this group, except that she was mulata. This difference did, as will be argued in this chapter, set her apart. This commercial form of rumba, aimed at an international audience “bore little stylistic relation to the traditional genre,” but as Moore argues, it was still Cuban, even if composed and mostly performed by white artists. However, from the start, the “Rumba Craze” also gave rise to further appropriations and distancing from its Afrocuban roots. Maurice Chevalier’s English recording of “Mama Inez” is but one example. A full list is too extensive, as “any song or composition drawing even the most tangential inspiration from Latin America was suddenly a potential rumba.”
Montaner and the Celluloid Rumba
(16) Montaner’s role in the popularization of rumba is further evident in her many appearances in film from the 1930s to the 1950s, primarily but not exclusively, in “rumbera film” or “cine de rumberas.” These films were mostly shot in Mexico and were often Spanish-Mexican productions. They typically followed the storyline of a good woman who is lead astray by necessity and the trappings of a villainous man. They were melodramas with multiple musical numbers, as a primary setting was a nightclub or cabaret, and included some comic relief. In “cine de rumberas,” the stars are the dancers, many of them Cuban such as Ninón Sevilla and María Antonieta Pons. While Montaner is featured in many of the nightclub scenes as a vocalist, it is not coincidental that the “rumberas” who play the leading roles and maintain focused camera attention are identifiably white. In this way, these film form part of the “whitening” of Afrocuban music as it is appropriated and rearticulated through a different medium for differently positioned audiences. What we see is Montaner, as a mulata, occupying that interstitial space literally and figuratively on the screen.
(17) It has to be noted that although Montaner is sometimes referred to as a rumbera, Moore is correct in pointing out that she is “an unlikely rumbera figure.” The simplest definition of rumbera is a woman who dances or performs rumba. It is commonly applied to dancers,wether performing in street celebrations or nightclubs. Ninón Sevilla and María Antonieta Pons, for example, performed as rumberas in countless films as well as nightclubs and more closely fit the definition, as does Celeste Mendoza who originally worked as a dancer. In this sense, Montaner would not be considered a rumbera since her primary role in both stage and film is as a vocalist and actress. There is, additionally, evidence that she vehemently resisted being labeled a rumbera. Her distancing herself from the term can be attributed to her considering herself a formally trained artist and performer while the term connoted a dancer lacking formal training. Particularly as represented in film, the term also had associations with “loose women” while Montaner’s on and off-stage persona, despite her multiple marriages, was never hypersexualized. Yet, given that she is a leading figure in the popularization of the rumba, it can be alternately argued that she is in fact a rumbera, albeit a different sort of rumbera.
(18) Her appearance in these films—in both senses of the word “appearance”—is markedly different from the more typical rumbera. Firstly, her physical appearance separates her from performers like Ninón Sevilla. Montaner’s body is fuller and she is typically wearing a long fitted mermaid style gown while Sevilla performs in the stereotypical “rumbera costume” with bare midriff and exposed naval, ruffled sleeves, exposed legs and a ruffled train that moves as she shakes. It is worth noting that what has come to be visually recognizable as the rumbera costume has no connection to traditional rumba. The unmistakable dress is actually taken from the “guarachera” costume of the late nineteenth century and exaggerated. It was appropriated in teatro vernáculo and used in rumba numbers. The costume remained a staple through the 1950s in nightclub performances, with male musicians also wearing ruffled sleeves, and can also be seen in films including Hollywood renditions of “Latin” numbers. In contrast to Sevilla, Montaner is clearly featured as a vocalist on stage, occasionally dancing but her movements are controlled, confined to her hips as she takes small steps. Sevilla, featured primarily as a dancer, moves closer to the audience, her shoulders shaking and her hips moving more broadly, drawing the spectators’ gaze to her body, particularly her hips and buttocks as she shakes the ruffled train. The other difference in physical appearance is racial. Montaner is mulata, while Sevilla, although exoticized in Mexican films as Cuban, is white. As it will be shown in Chapter Three regarding Celia Cruz’s performance in Mexico with Las mulatas del fuego, Montaner is spacially, visually and figuratively set apart from the spectacle of the dancers, effectively removing her from the eroticized male gaze.
(19) Her appearance in two films is particularly notable. The first of these is the classic rumbera film Víctimas del pecado [Victims of Sin] (1951) and the second, Angelitos negros (1948), which although not a rumbera film includes nightclub scenes and musical numbers. Víctimas includes a light-hearted number set in a cabaret with Montaner at the piano singing “Ay, José.” Although her character is removed from the central, melodramatic plotline, and the number’s playfulness stands in juxtaposition to the seriousness of the heroine’s struggles in raising an abandoned child while working as a cabaretera, Montaner’s performance is what is often remembered in this film.
(20) The up-tempo song is a monologue employing a thinly-veiled double entendre of dancing as a metaphor for a sexual encounter. In the lyrics, the speaker directs her partner, José, on how to “dance” with lines such as “Ay, José, así no es” [“Oh, José, that’s not how its done”]; and later, “Ay, José, así sí es” [“Oh, José, that’s how its done”]. In case the listener missed the double entendre, there are also the more direct lines, “No te pongas tan blandito/ ponte un poco más durito” [“Don’t get so limp/ get a little bit stiffer”]. The lyrics are provocative, but not graphic. Her gestures as she smiles coyly and strokes the piano keys, at times forcefully clearly convey the meaning of the song, while not coming across as nasty. As noted earlier, her dress and position on the stage and within the scene, as well as her demeanor mark her difference from the other women who work at the cabaret.
(21) Another musical number in Víctimas clearly marks Montaner’s racial difference. In the scene, the word “Changóo,” the name of the cabaret, appears clearly above the stage in neon. Since Changó is a Santería orisha, the sign references Afrocuban culture, but also displaces it as the club is in Mexico, not Cuba. Furthermore, the altered spelling graphically shows it as an echoing of its Afrocuban utterance. In the musical number, Montaner is again on a raised stage, off to the side, singing. She is wearing the stereotypic polka dotted dress of the “negra” or “black woman,” more closely associated with the figure of the “nana.” American audiences would further recognize the figure as the “Mammy.” In a deep and sonorous voice, Montaner entones “Changóo,” a song composed entirely of Yoruba-sounding lyrics. The dance floor is flooded with dancers as Ninón Sevilla makes her entrance in the expected rumbera costume. From the moment she appears, the camera follows her as Montaner’s image is removed and only her voice remains, with occasional cuts back to her. Sevilla’s dancing consists of movements that only tangentially reference traditional rumba, as when she holds her elbows out with hands at her hips in imitation of a hen, as is typical in guaguancó. Most of the dance, however, is the usual shimmy and shake with broad open steps typical of nightclub versions of rumba. The scene encapsulates the use of rumba, exoticized to set the atmosphere of licentiousness and abandon while the focal point of the gaze shifts from Montaner, a mulata playing the negra, to a white but recognizably “Latin” female body. Montaner, as the racialized mediator of Afrocuban expression is desexualized and neutralized through the figure of the “Mammy” and removed to the background.
(22) A second film worth noting is Angelitos negros (1948), based loosely on Fannie Hurst’s novel Imitation of Life. While Hurst’s novel informs much of the plot, with notable revisions, the title resonates in a Latin American context. The title is taken from the song performed in the film by the Mexican superstar Pedro Infante, which in turn is taken from the poem “Píntame angelitos negros” [Paint me black angels] by the Venezuelan poet and politician Andrés Eloy Blanco. These transnational reverberations are no mere coincidence as a resolution or neutralization of racial tensions through an ideology of mestizaje or racial hybridity was an ongoing concern in intellectual and political circles as well as the arts in Latin America. The title song lyrically makes a case for the inclusion and equality of blacks in a spiritual/religious terms with lines such as “que también se van al cielo/ todos los negritos buenos” [that all the good little blacks / also go to heaven]. Given the central role that evangelization played in Latin American colonization, the lyrical argument extends beyond the spiritual to political participation and equality. Moreover, the song and poem place the greatest emphasis on aesthetic representation as both take the form of an anticolonialist monologue directed at a painter, admonishing him for not including angelitos negros in his art, produced through the use of a “pincel extranjero” [foreign paintbrush]. As Delgadillo notes, the “circulation of these lyrics throughout the Americas attests to a dialogue about race conducted through transnational routes of commodity production and exchange.” Montaner’s role in these “transnational routes” is predicated on her role as a cultural mediator. Her visual and aural presence in the film serves as a meaningful representation of the often erased presence of the African diaspora in Latin America. This is not to say that the representation is not problematic and wrought with contradictions. The film was directed by Joselito Rodríguez, who also cast Montaner in two other films, all of which featured her in the role of the long-suffering black woman. The plot is a melodrama featuring Montaner as Mercé, a black woman whose white daughter, not knowing her true lineage, in turn gives birth to a black daughter. Horrified, she blames her husband’s unknown parentage. Raised to believe Mercé is merely her nanny, the central character heaps her racist abuse on the stoically suffering but always dutiful Mercé. The film did very well at the box-office in Mexico and abroad, praised by critics at the time for its portrayal and condemnation of racial discrimination. Montaner’s performance, not incidentally in blackface, was similarly praised as much for her acting as for her singing.
(23) The character of Mercé, who is mainly referred to as just “Nana,” is easily recognizable as the “Mammy,” but there are notable departures from the archetypal figure. As Wallace-Sanders summarizes, in a U.S. context:
The mammy’s stereotypical attributes—her deeply sonorous and effortlessly soothing voice, her infinite patience, her raucous laugh, her self-deprecating wit, her implicit understanding and acceptance of her inferiority and her devotion to whites—all point to a long-lasting and troubled marriage of racial and gender essentialism, mythology, and southern nostalgia.
The character of Mercé, although in a different geographic and cultural context, fits the description. The key difference rests on the fact that unlike the archetypal mammy, Mercé does not demonstrate a preference for her white charges over her own black children since the white woman she dotes on is her own biological daughter. This difference, which is also a departure from Hurst’s novel, problematizes Mercé as she is and is not the “nana” or mammy. Furthermore, as she sings a lullaby to her black granddaughter she is both the granny and the mammy.
(24) The lullaby is “Belén,” which like “Ay Mama Inés,” is composed by Eliseo Grenet employing a caricatured black vernacular in Afrocubanista style. In the scene, Montaner appears in blackface wearing a polka-dotted blouse, long skirt and apron, clearly referencing her position as the black nana. However, the nana/mammy archetype is problematized as she is singing to and holding a mixed-race child—her own granddaughter. The aural and visual effect of the scene is one of playfulness and tenderness. Making the song title the child’s name, Belén, further valorizes the child as an individual and represents the bond between her and her black grandmother as genuine and special. This is a marked departure from the figure of the mammy. The lyrics of the song similarly both play into and revise discourses on race and gender. The opening line, “Con tu pasita’ alborota’ y tu bemba colora’” [With your wild kinky hair and your thick red lips] highlights racialized physical features that go against Eurocentric contructs of beauty. If the white ideal is straight hair, the song valorizes the child’s “pasita.’” The term, which literally translates as “little raisins” refers to the tight curly hair. The use of “bemba colora’” is particularly resonant as it is a phrase used to describe, in racist terms a thick- lipped mouth. The phrase is also the title of a popular song later performed by both Celeste Mendoza and Celia Cruz. Cruz’s own re-interpretation of the phrase through her rendition of the song is further discussed in Chapter Three. In the scene from Angelitos negros, the phrase is directed toward a child who, although rejected by her “white” mother, is loved and comforted through the song itself as well as the physical closeness and gestures of Mercé as played by Montaner.
(25) Montaner’s career trajectory, from her start on the stage to nightclub performances and film is marked by her complex performance of race and gender. As a mulata, her horizons were limited by socially and historically-constructed possibilities. At one end stood the hypersexualized figure of the mulata and at the other the desexualized archetype of “la negra,” often depicted as the “nana” or “mammy.” From her breakout role in La niña Rita, cross-dressing and in blackface, she laid bare the artifice of both race and gender. Her musical talent and range assured that no matter what her placement on the stage might be, or where that stage may be located, she commanded the audience’s attention. She gained visibility at a time when opportunities for Afrocuabans, and women in particular where limited and prescribed. In so doing, she also brought a leading female presence to the first international recognition of Cuban or Latin music.
(26) As the Rumba Craze permeated outward from Cuba to the US, Europe and Latin America, it also figuratively echoed back to the island as the growing tourism industry in Havana lead to an explosion in demand for rumba. This in turn opened the way for Afrocuban performers to gain visibility in both upscale nightclubs and, increasingly, in venues catering to less affluent and more racially integrated audiences. The international popularity of rumba, even as it promoted a commercial and heavily co-opted version of the form, lead to Afrocuban performers and composers gaining clout and respect. If the Afrocubanista movement centered on white intellectuals and artists interpreting and circulating versions of black cultural expressions for consumption among the elite, the ensuing decades saw greater direct participation on the part of Afrocuban artists. The 1940s and 1950s correspond to a period in Cuban music that sees greater use of traditional Afrocuban forms, a trend reinforced by the growing number of Afrocuban composers and performers who were well versed in both traditional and commercial music. Many rumberos, who had moved to performing son so as to appeal to local audiences’ tastes, began to incorporate traditional rumba in their music. Moore has referred to this trend as the “blackening” of Cuban popular music whereby the
decentered and stereotyped representations of traditional rumba initially introduced by white Cuban composers into salon, teatro vernáculo, and son repertoires were being reappropriated by black artists in the mid-1940s, and verbal references to rumba began to take on a new measure of oppositionality by virtue of both their increasing frequency, and the fact that the performers now verbalizing their interest in rumba were those who were most directly affected by the marginalization of the traditional genre.
It is at this stage that the story of rumba intertwines with the career of Celeste Mendoza.
Celeste Mendoza, Raina del Guaguancó
(27) Celeste Mondoza Beltrán was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1930, making her contemporary with Celia Cruz and La Lupe. Her style and career trajectory, however, is markedly different from both, particularly but not solely based on her choice to remain in Cuba after the Revolution. At the age of thirteen, Mendoza moved with her family to Havana and shortly thereafter began her career as a dancer. Her dance and musical training were purely organic, learned at home and her immediate community. Her first dance teacher and partner, with whom she would later perform in nightclubs, was her cousin. While still in her teens, she performed as a dancer in venues such as the club Mi Bohío that have been described as “cabarets de tercera” or “third class cabarets.” These venues, located mainly in the Marianao neighborhood in Havana, offered greater opportunities for Afrocuban performers as the higher-status venues such as Tropicana and the Casino Nacional still featured predominantly white acts. The notable exception to this would be the Tropicana show dancers who were predominantly mulatas. In contrast to these well- known venues that catered to elite audiences, the cabarets in the Marianao district featured predominantly Afrocuban dancers as well as musicians. Although direct access to these performances is unavailable and written documentation is highly limited, there is evidence that rumba numbers “though clearly transformed to emphasize their sexual content, and musically influenced by contemporary European and North American popular musics, nevertheless resembled the non-commercial rumba to a greater extent than the shows of the same name in the major casinos of Havana.”
(28) Mendoza’s growing reputation as a dancer earned her a contract at the Tropicana in 1951. No doubt her being a mulata with a pin-up-worthy curves also had an influence given that nightclub’s history in the exhibition of the mulata body. That same year, she joined the Facundo Rivera quartet as a vocalist. The quartet also included Omara Portuondo, a notable female vocalist whose career was reignited by her appearance in Wim Wenders’ documentary Buena Vista Social Club (1999). Even as her career shifted from being a dancer to a vocalist and star performer, Mendoza’s start as a professional dancer, specifically one well-versed in grassroots Afrocuban dance traditions, would continue to influence the way she used her body on stage.
(29) Like Celia Cruz, Mendoza launched her career as a lead vocalist by winning an amateur radio contest in 1952. Her performance, broadcast on Radio Progreso, was accompanied by the Ernesto Duarte Orchestra—a chance meeting that would lead to further collaboration on stage and in the recording studio. In 1953 she made her first of many television appearances on the show Esta noche en CMQ. She would go on to perform and record with Cuban musical luminaries such as Bebo Valdés, Bola de Nieve, and Beny Moré; tour Europe, Latin America and Japan, and appear in several films including the documentary Nosotros la música, directed by Rogelio París.
(30) In her first television appearance in 1953 she performed a song that would go on to become one of her signature pieces: “Que me castigue Dios” [“May God Punish Me”]. The song is originally a Mexican ranchera, by the legendary composer and Mariachi singer José Alfredo Jiménez. As performed by Mendoza, the song becomes a sort of mambo-guaguancó. This taking of other Latin American musical styles and re-casting them as rumba, more specifically guaguancó, would become one of Mendoza’s trademarks. She was not the only Cuban female singer to perform and record rancheras with new arrangements, Celia Cruz and La Lupe both did this as well, but Mendoza had a knack for rearticulating any style as a guaguancó and making the song her own. This practice can also be seen to participate in the “blackening” trend Moore has identified in Cuban popular music of the time.
(31) Mendoza’s close association with traditional Afrocuban music earned her the title of “Reina del guaguancó” [“Queen of Guaguancó”] given to her by none other than Rita Montaner who described Mendoza as “a true Cuban artist who expresses through vocals and choreography, with spontaneity and without duplicities, our popular and folkloric music.” Montaner’s praise and respect were not easily obtained by her peers. She was known for openly mocking fellow female performers whom she considered lacking in talent. For example, she had an ongoing feud with the Mexican composer Agustín Lara who forbid her from ever performing his songs after she publicly insulted his protégé Toña la Negra. The title is also notable in that Mendoza was able to excel as a rumba vocalist, an area traditionally off-limits to women. It is important to note that the word rumbero connotes musical mastery and is exclusively in the masculine form. The feminine form, rumbera, connotes not a musician, but a dancer. Celeste Mendoza is then, like Rita Montaner, a particular kind of rumbera since she was not only a dancer but also recognized and respected as a vocalist in rumba.
(32) Her 1962 LP, not coincidentally titled Celeste Mendoza, Reina del guaguancó, includes original songs as well as guaguancó versions of popular songs. One particular song on that LP stands out: “Bemba Colora’.” The song would go on to be forever associated with Celia Cruz, but it was Celste Mendoza who first recorded it. Her 1966 LP Aquí el guaguancó with the Coro folklórico cubano de guaguancó further cemented her dominance as the Queen in the genre. The LP includes the track “Papá Ogún” consisting entirely of percussion instrumentation and adhering closely to the form of the traditional guaguancó. Furthermore, the song is for a Santería orisha. Although rumba is traditionally a secular form, “almost all rumberos today practice Santería, and images and quotes from its cantos appear in the texts they sing.” Since the suppression of drumming in Cuba has historically been linked with the suppression of Afrocuban religious practices such as Santería, the public display of both is not only oppositional but signals the “blackening” of popular music that came with the greater control exerted by Afrocuban musicians in their own cultural expressions. Mendoza’s musical selection as well as her performance style are exemplary of this trend to a greater degree than her predecessors such as Montaner or her contemporaries such as Celia Cruz and La Lupe.
(33) Mendoza’s performance style is also markedly different from that of the other performers discussed in this study. Her adhering more closely to traditional rumba lies at the center of this difference. While guguancó is traditionally a couples dance, Mendoza performed it as a soloist. The sexual conquest choreographically enacted in the traditional form shifts as Mendoza invites her audience to become her figurative dance partner. As Hensley describes regarding the traditional form:
The notion of tension captures the spatiality of the couple during the guaguancó dance. Both distance and the embodiment of desire are essential in producing a sense of tension between the two. To produce the tension the couple suggests a force that pulls them together while they remain physically separate. The couple produces this tension through their bodies (smile, shaking hips, intense looks).
Mendoza recreates that tension through her body as it moves in relation to the audience as opposed to a male partner. In doing so, she embodies both the female and male dancer as she is both the male aggressor and the female drawing and evading the ritualized conquest.
(34) Available footage of her movement as she performs includes a few clips from her many television appearances as well as two documentaries. A 1968 short documentary simply titled Celeste Mendoza provides her performance of three numbers. The more easily available filmic representation of Mendoza is her appearance in the 1964 documentary Nosotros la música. The setting for her performance is not a nightclub but a solar. The setting brings the rumba back to its beginnings—the streets and tenements of marginalized neighborhoods. The camera pans the buildings that face an open patio, lingering on the inhabitants as they go about their quotidian activities as the music starts, consisting entirely of percussion instrumentation. The rumbero Carlos Embale begins singing, joined by a coro. The balconies fill with spectators drawn out by the music and the camera falls on Celeste Mendoza. She begins with the Diana of “La última rumba,” [“The last rumba”]. Her stance and gestures, more closely aligned with the male role in guaguancó, are boastful and defiant—raised, open arms and upper body leaning back, challenging and inviting the audience. She is dressed in a contemporary style—tight pencil skirt and full blouse—as opposed to the stereotypic rumbera costume or the glittery clothes of a diva performing on a nightclub stage. She moves about using steps and movements from traditional rumba, alternately isolating parts of her body and taking quick, marked turns as is typical in the female role of guaguancó as the dancer evades the male’s movements. She draws out a male partner from the crowd and together they perform the traditional guaguancó choreography.
(35) This filmic performance of “La última rumba” works on several levels. Firstly, it returns rumba to its origins in the streets and solares. This space, as opposed to the nightclub, is not only the site of origins but also the site where rumba is maintained and transmitted as part of a cultural legacy. Secondly, Mendoza’s performance embodies that legacy and memory. As Hensley notes, “through the embodiment of rumba rhythms…many rumba performers assert the significance of distinct ‘origins’, or racialized bodily histories, against the dissolution of origins proposed through unifying notions of cubanidad.” Thirdly, in shifting her movements to include both the female and male roles in the choreography of guaguancó, she demonstrated the fluidity of gender performance even in this highly gendered dance.
(36) Although Mendoza is best remembered for interpreting guguancós, she also recorded boleros and sones. Among the latter is Mendoza’s own version of the “Sóngoro Cosongo.” The song is a musical adaptation of Nicolás Guillén’s poem “Si tú supiera” [“If you knew”] originally published in 1930 as part of the poetic cycle Motivos de son [Motifs of Son]. It is part of Guillén’s larger body of work incorporating musical elements into his poetry, most notably son. Although Guillén is often included under the classification of Afrocubanista, he labeled his work “poesía mulata” or “mulatto poetry.” In contrast to white Afrocubanista artists and poets, Guillén was himself mulato and his work “did not exoticize Afro-Cubans but described their everyday life, in particular the racism and poverty that was pervasive in their lives.” “Si tú supiera” follows the form of the son with the verse section laying out the narrative followed by a montuno which is faster in tempo and a repeated text is sung by “the primary singer and the chorus in a call-and-response pattern.” The title of the song adaptation comes from the montuno section which repeats the phrase “Sóngoro cosongo.” The poem and song verses present a speaker—presumably a black male—lamenting his loss of a lover clearly referred to as a black woman due to his poverty. The verses are followed by the a description of a revelry of music and dance witnessed by the speaker—a revelry that although recounted in an up-tempo beat only serves to highlight the speaker’s own loss and dejection.
(37) The original poem was adapted to music by Eliseo Grenet who also composed “Ay, Mama Inés.” Although, as Manabe demonstrates, “Grenet’s setting of Guillén’s poem follows the conventions of theatrical and salon music of the time, adapting Afro-Cuban features in a style suitable for the predominantly middle-class white audience of the theater of that era,” Guillén’s more critical view of race still comes through. As interpreted by Mendoza, the song is exemplary of the re-appropriation of Afrocuban cultural expressions by Afrocuban artists and performers after the 1940s. Mendoza was not the alone in performing and recording “Sóngoro Cosongo.” Celia Cruz did so as well and in the 1970s it was a hot for Salsa star Hector Lavoe. His version is perhaps the best known with a musical arrangement more suited to a full Salsa band, as opposed to Mendoza’s version which is closer to a traditional son.
(38) Among all the performers selected for this study, Mendoza stands out for the lack of critical attention to her music or career. Aside from her name being mentioned occasionally by music historians, there is nothing written on her in spite of her fairly large recording history. There are several possible explanations for this. An important factor is that unlike her contemporaries Celia Cruz and La Lupe, she chose to remain in Cuba after the Revolution so that while Cruz and La Lupe went on to develop careers as Salsa stars in the US, Mendoza was shut out. Her remaining in Cuba also affected her ability to perform and remain active in the music industry, even within the island. In the years following the Revolution, state ideology coupled with deteriorating economic conditions conflicted with the production and consumption of dance music. On an ideological level, state leaders “recognized that that dance bands did not always serve as an effective vehicle for the dissemination of revolutionary ideology. They associated such music with the extravagant nightlife of the 1950s and thus considered it antiquated, a throwback to times of decadence, inappropriate in a society rethinking itself and its values.”Since by the late 1960s the state had seized control of private businesses, including casinos and smaller nightclubs as well as media such as television and radio, it also controlled the content of musical production. Although Mendoza continued to make television appearances, her repertoire had lost relevance. Furthermore, the official ban on music from abroad, particularly the US, coupled with the promotion of nueva trova in the 1970s, isolated Cuban dance music. It was not until the resurgence of support for dance music in the late 1980s that Mendoza returned to the recording studio, and even then her music had limited distribution and impact.
(39) A second important factor was the interruption of her career in Cuba due to personal issues, including problems with alcohol and most notably imprisonment after being convicted for stabbing her husband. Her fall into obscurity is perhaps most tragically evident in the circumstances surrounding her death. She passed away alone in her apartment in the Vedado district of Havana on November 16th 1998, but her body was not discovered until five days later after neighbors complained of a foul odor. Many of her recordings were being reissued by the Cuban label ENGREM in the last years of her life and continued to be reissued internationally posthumously in response to a renewed interest in Cuban music In Europe and the US due, at least in part, to the popularity of Buena Vista Social Club (1999).
(40) Although Celeste Mendoza’s career and legacy have not received the critical attention afforded her contemporaries Celia Cruz and La Lupe, she exemplifies, as the Queen of Guaguancó, Cuban music’s re-appropriation or reclaiming of Afrocuban forms after the Rumba Craze as well as demonstrating the bifurcation of Cuban music and Salsa after the Revolution. In some ways, as discussed earlier in Chapter One, the lack of exchange with Cuban music produced on the island after 1959 spurred the development of Salsa, but little attention has been paid to what was happening in Cuba in terms of dance music until the emergence of Timba in the 1990s. Mendoza’s career begins to fill in that gap. Similarly, while there has been a body of work on the promotion of “folkloric” Rumba in Post-Revolutionary Cuba, not much has been written on the incorporation of rumba in other popular music expressions and Mendoza’s career addresses that as well.
(41) The role of Rumba, in both its traditional and commercial forms, within the history of Salsa has been minimized or ignored. Yet, its origins, development and transnational circulation make it not only relevant but an integral part of setting the stage for Salsa’s development. Recognizing the contributions of performers such as Rita Montaner and Celeste Mendoza in popularizing Rumba, in all its forms, is also part of a re-visioning of the historical antecedents to Salsa and clearing a space for the genre’s matrilineal heritage.
 Moore “Commercial,” 168; Acosta, among other musicologists, privileges Bantu origins asserting that “it has been the musical heritage of the Bantú that has had the strongest influence on Cuban popular music” including rumba. See “Generic,” 245. For differing perspectives on the origins of rumba see Orovio “La rumba del tiempo” and Basso “La rumba.”
 Urfé offers a more detailed and extensive classification of the different types of rumba while scholars such as Daniel and Martínez-Furé identify three basic types: yambú, guaguancó and columbia. The first two are danced by male/female couples while the third is dances exclusively by men in a competitive setting. For further description of Columbia see Daniel “Changing Values.”
Fajardo Estrada Rita Montaner, 395-96; Montaner described her nanny—María Antonia Díaz, decedent of slaves who taught her young charge prayers to the orishas—as a “second mother” (Fajardo Estrada 21).
 Teatro vernáculo actually predates teatro bufo in Cuba, but the terms are often used interchangeably due to the overlap in content and form. For example the use of the “negrito,” “mulata,” and “gallego” as stock characters was dominant in both as well as in zarzuela. For a fuller discussion of teatro vernáculo and teatro bufo see Thomas’ chapter “Cuban Lyric Theater in Context” in Cuban Zarzuela, Martiatu’s Bufo y nación, Lane’s Blackface Cuba, and Leal’s La selva oscura, tomo 2.
 The rise in the popularity of blackface performance in various parts of Latin America in the years of the US Civil War was influenced by touring blackface minstrel troupes. For information on US minstrel troupes in Cuba see Aretz “Music and Dance,” 189-226.
Moore Nationalizing, 42; As Moore further notes, “parodic representations of Afrocuban music and dance on the theatre stage was paralleled by developments in other nineteenth-century arts.” See also Kutsinski’s Sugar’s Secrets and Lane’s Blackface Cuba.
 Gonzalo Roig, Moisés Simons and Ernesto Lecuona, for example, started as composers in teatro vernáculo and zarzuela and would go on to impact nightclub performances as well as popular recordings of Cuban music.
 Moore Nationalizing, 42; for an in-depth discussion on the mulata as both iconic of Cubanía, or “Cubanness,” and object of derision see Kutzinski’s Sugar’s Secrets. For a further discussion of the characters of the negrito, the mulata, and the gallego see also chapters three and four in Thomas’s Cuban Zarzuela.
 The calesero, a variation of the negrito, appears as a gaudily dressed slave “who inevitably believes himself to be extremely good-looking.” The stereotype appears as early as the mid-nineteenth century in contumbrista art and remained popular until the 1930s in “comic theater and the somewhat more prestigious zarzuela” (Moore, Nationalizing 47).
 As Thomas relates, “Librettist Antonio Castells had not originally conceived of Montaner in the role.” Due to the theater’s management’s concerns regarding raising the venue’s standards away from the lowly teatro vernáculo, it was agreed that the song “Ay Mama Inés” could be included only with Montaner in the role (87).
 Moore succinctly summarizes the driving forces behind a renewed interest in Afrocuban arts and music in the Afrocubanista movement: “Although the dominant society demonstrated some interest in Afrocuban genres in the nineteenth century, the volatile social conditions of the 1920s and 1930s forced a broader reexamination of inherited colonial prejudice and a tentative acceptance of black working-class culture. Increasingly antagonistic foreign relations with the United States, frustrated national aspirations, economic crisis, political instability and revolution, artistic influences from abroad, and technological innovations all combined to shape afrocubanismo. See Moore “Poetic, Visual, and Symphonic,” 106.
 Moore Nationalizing, 180; For a full discussion of the musical construction of Latin America as an amorphous space in the American imaginary see Pérez Firmat’s “Latunes.” For a discussion of the presence of Latin music in American musical theater see Sandoval-Sánchez. See also Roberts’ groundbreaking work, The Latin Tinge on the presence of Latin music in American popular music.
”Cine de rumberas” is also called “cine de cabaretera.” The association between the two terms can also connote women who perform in nightclubs and may also engage in prostitution or be “loose women.”
 The song was popularized and has become closely associated with Bola de Nieve, Montaner’s one-time piano player. For an account of the sometimes fractious relationship between Bola de Nieve and Montaner see Fajardo Estrada.
 In contrast to Moore and Kutzinki’s position regarding Afrocubanismo as a predominantly white movement that sought to incorporate Afrocuban cultural elements into a discourse of mestizaje that minimized racial tensions, De la Fuente argues that Afrocubans “were not just passive objects of representation. They were active participants in the contested formulation of an ideological and cultural product that was neither stable nor coherent.” See De la Fuente 184; Arnedo-Gómez takes up Del la Fuente’s position highlighting the work of marginalized black Cuban intellectuals of the 1930s who contested white Afrocubanista formualtions of racial harmony. See Ardedo-Gómez “Uniting Blacks in a Raceless Nation.”
 No production information is available for this short documentary. Clips are available on Youtube under titles “Nostalgia Cubana-Celeste Mendoza- Como se llama usted,” “Nostalgia Cubana-Celste Mendoza-Fiesta Brava,” and “Nostalgia Cubana-Celeste Mendoza-Seguire.” See Valdés Con música, Anexo 9.
 Manabe “Reinterpretations of Son.” There is a great body of work on Nicolás Guillén. For an overview see Ellis Cuba’s Nicolás Guillén and Jutzinski’s “Re-Reading Nicolás Guillén.” For a discussion of Guillén in relation to or contrast to U.S. intellectuals see Laremont and Yun “The Havana Afrocubano Movement and the Harlem Renaissance.”
 As part of a campaign to resist cultural imperialism, official support shifted to the promotion of musical artists such as Sylvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés that fell largely under the classification of nueva trova, a musical expression that favored socially conscious lyrics and third world solidarity.
 One of the consequences of the blockade, or embargo, of Cuban goods including music after the Revolution was the mining of old Cuban musical recordings which now had no copyright claims. One example is the guaguancó “Se pierde en esta vida,” originally recorded by Celeste Mendoza being revived as a salsa song by performer Roberto Roena and retitled “Contigo no quiero na’.”