Cuban culture is characterised by a melting pot of different cultures, mainly from Spain and Africa. After the 1959 revolution, the government launched a national literacy campaign, offered free education for all and established rigorous sports, ballet and music programmes.
Cuban music is very rich and is the best known expression of Cuban culture. The central form of this music is the Son, which was the basis for many other musical styles such as the “Danzón de nuevo ritmo”, the Mambo, the Cha-Cha-Cha and the Salsa. Rumba music (“de cajón o de solar”) has its origins in early Afro-Cuban culture, mixed with elements of the Hispanic style. The tres was invented in Cuba based on models of Spanish cordophone instruments (the instrument is actually a fusion of elements of the Spanish guitar and lute). Other traditional Cuban instruments are of African or Taino origin or both, such as the maracas, the güiro, the marímbula and various wooden drums, including the mayohuacán.
Cuban popular music, in all styles, is appreciated and praised throughout the world. Cuban classical music, which includes music with strong African and European influences and includes both symphonic works and music for soloists, has received international recognition thanks to composers like Ernesto Lecuona. Havana was the heart of the Cuban rap scene in its early days, in the 1990s.
At this time, reggaetón was becoming increasingly popular. In 2011, the Cuban state denounced reggaetón as degenerate, ordered the reduction of the genre’s “low-key” broadcast (although it did not ban it outright) and banned Osmani García’s megahit Chupi Chupi, characterising its depiction of sex as “the kind a prostitute would achieve”. In December 2012, the Cuban government officially banned sexually explicit reggaeton songs and music videos on radio and television. Besides pop, classical and rock music are also very popular in Cuba.
Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean cuisine. Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish cuisine, with some Caribbean influences in spices and flavours. Food rationing, which has been the norm in Cuba for the last four decades, limits the general availability of these dishes. The traditional Cuban meal is not served in several courses; all dishes are served at the same time.
A typical meal may consist of plantains, black beans and rice, ropa vieja (shredded beef), Cuban bread, pork with onions and tropical fruits. Black beans and rice, called moros y cristianos (or moros for short), and plantains are staples of the Cuban diet. Most meat dishes are slow-cooked with light sauces. Garlic, cumin, oregano and bay leaves are the dominant spices.
Cuban literature began to make its voice heard in the early 19th century. The dominant themes of independence and freedom were exemplified by José Martí, who led the modernist movement in Cuban literature. Writers such as Nicolás Guillén and José Z. Tallet focused on literature as social protest. The poems and novels of Dulce María Loynaz and José Lezama Lima had a major influence. The novelist Miguel Barnet, who wrote “Everyone Dreamed of Cuba”, reflects a rather melancholic Cuba.
Writers such as Reinaldo Arenas, Guillermo Cabrera Infante and, more recently, Daína Chaviano, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Zoé Valdés, Guillermo Rosales and Leonardo Padurah have achieved international recognition in the post-revolutionary era, although many of them have been forced to continue their work in exile because of the ideological control of the media by the Cuban authorities.
Dance occupies a privileged place in Cuban culture. Folk dance is considered an essential part of life, and concert dance is supported by the government and includes internationally renowned companies such as the Ballet Nacional de Cuba.
Because of their historical ties to the United States, many Cubans play sports that are popular in North America rather than those traditionally promoted in other Latin American countries. Baseball is by far the most popular sport; other sports and pastimes include football, basketball, volleyball, cricket and track and field. Cuba is a dominant force in amateur boxing, regularly winning numerous medals in major international competitions. Cuba also fields a national team that participates in the Olympic Games.