Bolero: identity, emotion and poetry turned into song
CountryCuba and Mexico
RegionLatin America and the Caribbean
Inscription history
Inscription2023 (18th session)

Bolero is a genre of song which originated in eastern Cuba in the late 19th century as part of the trova tradition. Unrelated to the older Spanish dance of the same name, bolero is characterized by sophisticated lyrics dealing with love. It has been called the "quintessential Latin American romantic song of the twentieth century".[1]

Unlike the simpler, thematically diverse canción, bolero did not stem directly from the European lyrical tradition, which included Italian opera and canzone, popular in urban centers like Havana at the time. Instead, it was born as a form of romantic folk poetry cultivated by a new breed of troubadour from Santiago de Cuba, the trovadores.[1] Pepe Sánchez is considered the father of this movement and the author of the first bolero, "Tristezas", written in 1883.[2] Originally, boleros were sung by individual trovadores while playing guitar. Over time, it became common for trovadores to play in groups as dúos, tríos, cuartetos, etc. Thanks to the Trío Matamoros and, later, Trío Los Panchos, bolero achieved widespread popularity in Latin America, the United States and Spain. At the same time, Havana had become a fertile ground where bolero composers met to create compositions and improvise new tunes; it was the so-called filin movement, which derived its name from the English word "feeling". Many of the genre's most enduring pieces were written then and popularized in radio and cabaret performances by singers such as Olga Guillot and Elena Burke, backed by orchestras and big bands.[3]

Boleros are generally in 4/4 time and, musically, compositions and arrangements might take a variety of forms. This flexibility has enabled boleros to feature in the repertoire of Cuban son and rumba ensembles, as well as Spanish copla and flamenco singers, since the early 20th century. Occasionally, boleros have been merged with other forms to yield new subgenres, such as the bolero-son, popular in the 1930s and 1940s, and the bolero-cha, popular in the 1950s. In the United States, the rhumba ballroom dance emerged as an adaptation of the bolero-son in the 1930s. Boleros can also be found in the African rumba repertoire of many artists from Kinshasa to Dakar, due to the many bolero records that were distributed to radios there as part of the G.V. Series.

The popularity of the genre has also been felt as far as Vietnam, where it became a fashionable song style in South Vietnam before the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and remains popular with Vietnamese.



Pepe Sánchez (guitar, left) and Emiliano Blez (tres) with three singers (standing)

In Cuba, the bolero was perhaps the first great Cuban musical and vocal synthesis to win universal recognition.[4] In 2
time, this dance music spread to other countries, leaving behind what Ed Morales has called the "most popular lyric tradition in Latin America."[5]

The Cuban bolero tradition originated in Santiago de Cuba in the last quarter of the 19th century;[6] it does not owe its origin to the Spanish music and song of the same name. In the 19th century there grew up in Santiago de Cuba a group of itinerant musicians who moved around earning their living by singing and playing the guitar.

Pepe Sanchez is known as the father of the trova style and the creator of the Cuban bolero. Untrained, but with remarkable natural talent, he composed numbers in his head and never wrote them down. As a result, most of these numbers are now lost, but two dozen or so survive because friends and students wrote them down. He was the model and teacher for the great trovadores who followed.[7][8]

Spread in Latin America

Julio Jaramillo, a prolific Ecuadorian bolero singer and recording artist who performed throughout Latin America.

The bolero first spread from the east of Cuba to the Dominican Republic in the year 1895, thanks to trovador Sindo Garay, who had previously brought the criolla "La Dorila" to Cuba, giving rise to a lasting interchange of lyrical styles between both islands.[9] In the early 20th century the bolero reached Puerto Rico and Mexico, where it was popularized by the first radio stations around 1915.[9] In Mexico, the genre became an essential component of the thriving trova yucateca movement in Yucatán alongside other Cuban forms such as the clave. It leading exponent was Guty Cárdenas.[1]

By the 1930s, when Trío Matamoros made famous their mix of bolero and son cubano known as bolero-son, the genre was a staple of the musical repertoire of most Latin American countries.[10] In Spain, Cuban bolero was incorporated into the copla repertoire with added elements from Andalusian music, giving rise to the so-called bolero moruno, made famous by composers such as Carmelo Larrea and Quintero, León y Quiroga.[11]

External audio
audio icon You may hear María Grever's boleros: Mi Sarape and De Donde sung by Juan Arvizu with Alfredo Antonini's CBS Tipica Orchestra and John Serry Sr. in 1942 Here on

Some of the bolero's leading composers have come from nearby countries, as in the case of the prolific Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández and the Mexican composers: Agustín Lara and María Grever. Some Cuban composers of the bolero are primarily considered trovadores.[12][13][14][15] Several lyric tenors also contributed to the popularization of the bolero throughout North and South America during the 1930s and the 1940s through live concerts and performances on international radio networks. Included in this group were the Mexican operatic tenors: Juan Arvizu[16][17][18][19] and Nestor Mesta Chayres.[20][21][22] Their collaborations in New York City with such musicians as Alfredo Antonini, Terig Tucci, Elsa Miranda and John Serry Sr. on the CBS radio show Viva América also introduced the bolero to millions of listeners throughout the United States.[23] Also noteworthy during the 1940s and 1950s were the performances of Trio Los Panchos, which featured the artistry of musicians from Mexico and Puerto Rico including: Chucho Navarro, Alfredo Gil and Hernando Avilés.[24][25] Boleros saw a resurgence in popularity during the 1990s when Mexican singer Luis Miguel was credited for reviving interest in the bolero genre following the release Romance.[26]

Bolero fusions

Bolero Artistas para la Habana, sung by Emilio Cabello. Spain, 1910.

José Loyola comments that the frequent fusions of the bolero with other Cuban rhythms is one of the reasons it has been so fertile for such a long period of time:

"La adaptación y fusión del bolero con otros géneros de la música popular bailable ha contribuido al desarrollo del mismo, y a su vigencia y contemporaneidad."[27]
(The adaptation and fusion of the bolero with other types of popular dance music has contributed to their development, and to its endurance and timelessness.)

This adaptability was largely achieved by dispensing with limitations in format or instrumentation, and by an increase in syncopation (so producing a more afrocuban sound). Examples would be:

The lyrics of the bolero can be found throughout popular music, especially Latin dance music.


Bolero music has also spread to Vietnam. In the 1930s, the nation grew fond of modern music, which combined Western elements with traditional music. Vietnamese bolero is generally slower tempo compared to Hispanic bolero, and is similar in style to Japanese enka and Korean trot.[28] Such music was romantic, expressing concepts of feelings, love, and life in a poetic language;[29] this predisposition was hated by Viet Minh, who strived towards shaping the working class at the time.[30]

This genre became colloquially known as yellow music, in opposition to the nhạc đỏ (red music) endorsed by the Communist government of Hanoi during the era of the Vietnam War. As a result of North Vietnam winning the war, the music was banned in 1975. Those caught listening to yellow music would be punished, and their music confiscated. After the Fall of Saigon, many Vietnamese migrated to the United States, taking their music with them. The ban was lightened in 1986, when love songs could be written again, but by then the music industry was killed.[30]

The government of Vietnam also prohibited the sale of overseas Vietnamese music, including variety shows like Asia and Paris by Night. In recent years however, bolero had grown popular again, as more overseas singers performed in Vietnam. Additionally, singing competition television series like Boléro Idol have grown popular, with singers performing songs, including songs formerly banned.[30]

Ballroom dance

Main article: Rhumba

International ballroom

A version of the Cuban bolero is danced throughout the Latin dance world (supervised by the World Dance Council) under the misnomer "rumba", often spelled "rhumba". This came about in the early 1930s when a simple overall term was needed to market Cuban music to audiences unfamiliar with the various Cuban musical terms. The famous "Peanut Vendor", actually a son-pregón, was so labelled, and the label stuck for other types of Cuban music.[31][32]

In Cuba, the bolero is usually written in 2
time, elsewhere often 4
. The tempo for dance is about 120 beats per minute. The music has a gentle Cuban rhythm related to a slow son, which is the reason it may be best described as a bolero-son. Like some other Cuban dances, there are three steps to four beats, with the first step of a figure on the second beat, not the first. The slow (over the two beats four and one) is executed with a hip movement over the standing foot, with no foot-flick.[33]

American Rhythm

The dance known as bolero is one of the competition dances in American Rhythm ballroom dance category. The first step is typically taken on the first beat, held during the second beat with two more steps falling on beats three and four (cued as "slow-quick-quick"). In competitive dance the music is in 4
time and will range between 96 and 104 bpm. This dance is quite different from the other American Rhythm dances in that it not only requires cuban motion but rises and falls such as found in waltz and contra body movement.[34] Popular music for this dance style need not be Latin in origin. Lists of music used in competitions for American Rhythm Bolero are available.[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Party, Daniel (2014). Horn, David; Shepherd, John (eds.). Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Volume 9: Genres: Caribbean and Latin America. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 62–67. ISBN 978-1-4411-3225-3.
  2. ^ Bigott, Luis Antonio (1993). Historia del bolero cubano, 1883-1950 (in Spanish). Ediciones Los Heraldos Negros. p. 59. ISBN 978-980-6323-17-9.
  3. ^ Bigott (1993) pp. 202, 213, 224.
  4. ^ Acosta, Leonardo 1987. From the drum to the synthesiser. La Habana. p121
  5. ^ Morales, p120
  6. ^ Cristobal Diaz offers 1885: "el bolero, creado aproximadamente para 1885". Diaz Ayala, Cristobal 1999. Cuando sali de la Habana 1898-1997: cien anos de musica cubana por el mundo. 3rd ed, Cubanacan, San Juan P.R. p24-25
  7. ^ Orovio, Helio 2004. Cuban music from A to Z. p195.
  8. ^ Orovio, Helio 1995. El bolero latino. La Habana.
  9. ^ a b Maggiolo, Marcio Veloz; Castillo, José del (2009). El bolero: visiones y perfiles de una pasión dominicana (in Spanish). Santo Domingo: CODETEL. p. 46. ISBN 9789993486237.
  10. ^ Bigott (1993) p. 125.
  11. ^ Maggiolo & Castillo (2009) p. 180.
  12. ^ Loyola Fernandez, Jose 1996. En ritmo de bolero: el bolero en la música bailable cubana. Huracán, Río Piedras P.R.
  13. ^ Orovio, Helio 1992. 300 boleros de oro. Mexico City.
  14. ^ Restrepo Duque, Hernán 1992. Lo que cantan los boleros. Columbia.
  15. ^ Rico Salazar, Jaime 1999. Cien años de boleros: su historia, sus compositores, sus mejores interpretes y 700 boleros inolvidables. 5th ed, Bogotá.
  16. ^ Wood, Andrew G. (2014). "From Bordello Pianist to Tropical Troubadour: 1897–1930". Agustín Lara. pp. 20–48. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199892457.003.0002. ISBN 978-0-19-989245-7.
  17. ^ Juan Arvizu - Biography in Todo Tango - Juan Arvizu Biography yand Bolero/Tango en Spanish)
  18. ^ Olsen, Dale A.; Sheehy, Daniel E. (25 September 2017). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Routledge. ISBN 9781351544238 – via Google Books.
  19. ^ Media Sound & Culture in Latin America. Editors: Bronfman, Alejanda & Wood, Andrew Grant. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, 2012, Pg. 49 ISBN 978-0-8229-6187-1 Media Sound & Culture in Latin America. Editors: Bronfman, Alejanda & Wood, Andrew Grant. Juan Arvizu - leading Mexican tenor and CBS radio in New York on
  20. ^ El Siglo de Torréon - Néstor Mesta Cháyres Nestor Mesta Chayres Biography and Bolero on Spanish)
  21. ^ Media Sound & Culture in Latin America. Editors: Bronfman, Alejanda & Wood, Andrew Grant. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, 2012, Pg. 49 ISBN 978-0-8229-6187-1 Media Sound & Culture in Latin America. Editors: Bronfman, Alejanda & Wood, Andrew Grant. Nestor Mesta Chayres - leading Mexican tenor and CBS radio in New York on
  22. ^ "NÉSTOR MESTA CHAYRES- MÉJICO".[self-published source?]
  23. ^ Media Sound & Culture in Latin America & The Caribbean. Editors: Bronfman, Alejandra & Wood, Andrew Grant.University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, 2012 Pg. 49 See Pg. 49
  24. ^ Encyclopedia of Latin American Popular Music, Torres, George - Editor. Greenwood, Oxford, England 2013, p. 44-45, 415 ISBN 978-0-313-34031-4"Encyclopedia of Latin American Popular Music", Torres, George - Editor, "Trio Los Panchos" on
  25. ^ Latin Music - Musicians, Genres and Themes, Stavans, Ilan - Editor In Chief, Greenwood, Oxford, England, 2014, p. 798-799 ISBN 978-0-313-34395-7 Latin Music - Musicians, Genres and Themes, Stavans, Ilan - Editor, "Trio Los Panchos" on
  26. ^ Holston, Mark (September 1995). "Ageless Romance with Bolero". Américas. 47 (5): 48–53. ProQuest 1792715603.
  27. ^ Loyola Fernandez, José 1996. El ritmo en bolero: el bolero en la musica bailable cubana. Huracan, Rio Piedras P.R. p249
  28. ^ Theo Tiền Phong (26 August 2010). "Trí thức cũng nghe nhạc vàng" (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 3 November 2017. Bolero Việt Nam rất chậm.
  29. ^ Chánh, Minh (12 April 2012). "Bolero – một lịch sử tình ca". VietnamNet (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  30. ^ a b c Duy, Dinh (12 October 2016). "The Revival of Boléro in Vietnam". The Diplomat. The Diplomat. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  31. ^ Diaz Ayala, Cristobal 1981. Música cubana del Areyto a la Nueva Trova. 2nd rev ed, Cubanacan, San Juan P.R.
  32. ^ Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago. Chapter 27 The Peanut Vendor.
  33. ^ Lavelle, Doris 1983. Latin & American dances. 3rd ed, Black, London.
  34. ^ W.D. Eng, Inc. dba Dance Vision 2003. American Style Rhythm Bronze Manual, Las Vegas, Nevada.
  35. ^ "Music From America's Ballroom Challenge". America's Ballroom Challenge. Archived from the original on 28 January 2020. Retrieved 12 July 2021.