The music of Cuba developed from a unique set of historical and social circumstances. African slaves, brought to work on the Spanish sugar plantations, soon outnumbered the European colonists. The attitude of the Spanish political and religious institutions towards African culture, while undeniably oppressive, was more open than in some other colonial societies. Catholic priests did their best to convert the Africans to Christianity, but they overlooked their worship of African deities as long as they gave them Christian names. In fact, santeria, a religion that combines Catholicism with African deities and rituals, is still a key part of Cuban spiritual life.
Most of the songs on this collection are a style called son, (lit. "sound") one of the most popular and influential Cuban musical forms. Son developed around the turn of the century in Oriente, a region in eastern Cuba. Migrating musicians brought son west to Havana in the 1920s, where it exploded in popularity. The fundamental element of the son is a rhythmic pattern called clave (lit. "key"). Played on two wooden sticks, called claves, this repetitive beat is the foundation upon which all of the other musical elements are structured. It gives son the propulsive swing that has endeared it to people around the world. Most contemporary salsa is based on son.