Timba – A World View

| 01/31/2012

Timba Around the WorldNOTE: This article was written in early 2011 but had gotten lost. I’m reposting it now since I found & fixed it on my computer.  Enjoy!!

Timba is a genre of salsa that encourages so many discussions and disagreements, and yet ignites so much passion. I was introduced to timba about 8 years ago and the first time I heard it I thought, “Wow! What the heck is that?”  The song was “TimPop con Birdland by Los Van Van” and is still one of my favorite songs. It was a few more years before I really started to differentiate timba from other types of salsa. I wasn’t familiar with the artists nor could I explain how it was different.  Soon enough, however, I fell in love with the music and couldn’t figure out why others weren’t either. So over the past few years, I’ve worked to help spread the love of timba in the Washington DC area.  From Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, it always seems that others around the world love it more than us and that our embargo against Cuba has been the reason why most Americans are unfamiliar and un-accepting of timba.

I decided to post some questions to my friend, Omar Pinate, a DJ who I first met online and later in person. He has unique views of timba and salsa and was kind enough to share his thoughts.

Omar, born to Panamanian and Cuban parents, calls Miami home although he is currently living in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Due to his service in the military, he has lived various places and I believe that gives him a unique perspective on how a wide range of people view timba and Cuban salsa.  When asked about how he thinks Americans view timba he replied, “Timba has been around since the early 90s…but only in the last 5 years or so has it really taken off in the States so I’d say it’s been a bit slow to catch on.”  Why? Politics plays a large part.  He continued, “During the Clinton Administration, Cuban bands and solo artist were able to tour the States where in with the Bush Administration, that was not the case. Thanks to President Obama’s Administration, we are seeing more Cuban bands touring than we have probably ever seen.”  Recently, bands such as Charanga Habanera, Aldaberto Alvarez, Manolito Simonet, and Elio Revé have been holding concerts. Another factor he mentioned was that Timba was not played on radio stations or clubs in Miami. Without the exposure, timba didn’t have a chance against the big stars of the time.

With the doors possibly opening for Americans to visit Cuba, I wondered if Omar felt that by visiting the country, more people would finally be open to timba and have a better appreciation for it.  He answered with, “…I doubt the majority of Americans would be traveling only to learn about Timba. The island simply has way too much to offer. If we analyze it, salsa didn’t become popular because everyone flew to Puerto Rico or Venezuela. It became popular because it was exported to the world by many ambassadors.” Being the ambassador that he is, Omar has taken timba to Panama (his second home) where Spanish reggae and salsa are king. Once they heard timba, his friends loved it and are opening up to the genre.

Because other countries can visit Cuba easier than Americans, I know that timba is more popular in Europe and other areas of the world. Are they more open or just more exposed? According to Omar and based on my experience as well, timba is very popular in Peru, Mexico, and Venezuela. Is it their proximity to the island? Omar mentioned Europe: “In Europe, the scene is a little different because the Europeans are accustomed to having the bands over for the well known summer festivals. There’s always someone touring in France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. I was recently at the Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco show in Stuttgart. The Germans absolutely love Cuban music and are very good Casino dancers.” 

So how can we ignite the passion we have for timba in others? Omar suggests, “We all have to be accepting of each other’s likes and dislikes.  We have to be careful that in trying to promote the love we have for Cuban music and dance, that we not offend others and turn them away from perhaps learning something new.”  For those who teach, also using timba or Cuban salsa during lessons would help immensely so that students learn how to move to the music.

As I always do, I wanted to know which artists Omar favors. Should we just say, “Everyone”?  He did list Maykel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor” as the artist/group getting the most play at the moment from him. He went on to list Pupy y Los Que Son Son, Elio Revé y Su Charangon, Los Van Van, Bamboleo, etc, etc.  He’s in great anticipation of Elio’s new album as they’ve made a few additions – especially a female vocalist.

Thank you to Omar for taking the time to answer my questions. If you live in Germany, look him up for DJing at your next party! You can contact me and I’ll be sure to put you in touch!!



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Category: Interviews, Timba

About the Author ()

Hello! I love Cuban salsa. While I really love all salsa music my heart, soul, and body just responds best to Cuban salsa. It doesn't matter if it is the early work of Celia Cruz or Ibrahim Ferrer or the current Bamboleo album - I'm gonna move to it! I live in the Washington DC area and work to promote Cuban dancing and music and try to educate people about what timba is... what rueda is... what salsa casino is... and how, historically, it all played a big part in them being able to go to a club and dance salsa.

Comments (5)

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  1. Karlos says:

    Thanks a lot for the heads up guys! Much appreciated.
    Next sunday you can count me on!


  2. Karlos says:

    You cannot imagine how happy I am to read this! Now it makes sense to me. Let me explain.

    I LOVE salsa. I learned how to dance with a Cuban teacher in Germany. His name is Osman Duque. He won the Salsa championship in Switzerland in 2009 and ended 3rd at the European championship the same year. Of course, he only dances Cuban Salsa.
    I started classes with him in 2009, and got really really hooked. I am from the Caribbean, so I can relate to the dance, the movement, and the energy within Cuban salsa. I have become quite good, and now the only music I listen to is salsa……actually Timba. I have ALL Los Van Van albums, Maykel Blanco, Manolito etc.

    In Germany, I would say it’s 50-50 between Cuban salsa and the line style. There are very very good Cuban salsa teachers in Germany. Rafael Baro, Miguelito Herrera and others. All are, as you said ambassadors, of salsa.
    I now live since 2 months in New York. I moved there for work reasons. Before I arrived, I was looking forward to the salsa scene. Gosh I am sooooo disappointed! I went to 6 salsa clubs, and every single one of them was really really bad. The music being played was some kind of cheesy slow salsa I’ve never heard before and of course, 99% of people dance on the line (I expected that), and I am not even talking about the ridiculously expensive prices they charge! I could not understand that a city like New York would not play Cuban salsa in clubs. I mean, so many latinos here, and even them…..dance the line! Crazy!

    Now, with this article, it makes perfect sense. Cuban salsa, as in Timba is more exposed or exported to Europe than North America. The style, the music, the flair have not reached here.
    I am thinking of opening a bar and play only Timba, get some friends over and get cracking!
    If you have some good addresses of nice salsa places in NYC where they play timba, please let me know!