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Décima and Rhumba Influences

Cuban Sandwich

Cultural Perspectives

The décima and rhumba tradition in Cuban music refers to a Spanish genre and its leading exponent: novelist, poet, and musician Vicente Espinel (1551–1644). This prolific composer’s work in a style known as espinela created the foundations for an expression of Afro-Cuban music with its introduction into the Caribbean during the Colonial period. Variations in décima and rhumba, with their profound effects on the lyrics and poetic articulation of Cuba’s multiracial populations, have given us ethnic music melded to this island culture.

The décima or espinela form represents the development of a thousand years of Spanish literary tradition going back to Hispano-Muslim poetry during the 11th and 12th centuries. Extemporaneous verse set to music was highly prized and common among Castilian troubadours by the 1400s. Décima became popular among Spain’s illiterate working class and was quickly assimilated in Andalusia and the Canary Islands. Rural populations in the Canaries, Latin America, and the Caribbean maintained a vibrant and ongoing tradition, incorporating décima lyrics and improvised music, spreading its literary bounty throughout the islands.

Farm laborers brought décima to Cuba. The church played an important role, as décima adapted itself and its basic flare for improvisation to descriptions of images of saints as they passed in processions. A guajiro or native literature was established. Punto cubano, the primary structural form for décima, emerged in the 19th century, re-energizing and modernizing this popular style. Earthy characteristics of décima/punto emerge in “The Cook Ran Off.”

What bad luck I had with that cook!

She turned out to be a party girl and ran off with another guy.

I feel lonely. She was very good to me.

She always got me dinner and she even bought me a suit!

This other guy she found, he spoke with cash,

fed her his usual line, bought her a wristwatch

and the black girl never came back.

I’ve come to the conclusion that

there’s no woman without money!

That’s the first thing to have in life I need

to be able to support the woman I love most.


The Cuban sandwich is authentic “cubano.” Here is the traditional version!


4 slices ham

4 slices roast pork

3 slices Swiss cheese

4 pickle slices

Regular yellow mustard (not spicy or dijon)

Soft butter

12 to 16 inch baguette-style white bread, cut in half lengthwise


Spread mustard on inside of each half of bread. Layer the ham slices on one piece of bread and top with the roasted pork. Add Swiss cheese on top of the pork and then add pickle slices. Place the other piece of bread on top. Brush soft butter on the outside of both pieces of bread. Place the sandwich in a hot skillet on the stove and then press the sandwich down with heavy spatula or frying pan. When finished, the sandwich should be flattened down to less than half the original size. Slice the sandwich diagonally across the middle. Makes one or two servings.


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