This rhythm is probably the most popular and well known of the three forms of “Rumba”. Unlike the “Yambu” which is traditionally played on boxes (cajones) at a slower tempo, or the brisk tempo of the rhythmically complex “Columbia”, the guaguanco is the rumba that most people recognize as the center piece of folkloric conga playing. It consists of a quinto (lead drum), a segundo (the middle drum), a salidor (the bottom drum), a stick part (gua-gua), a shaker (maruga), claves, and very intricate vocal parts. All three drums in this style have an opportunity to significantly improvise within their patterns, and so the resulting percussion conversation can be very beautiful and complex.
It is important to remember that all forms of rumba consist of three distinct elements—singing, dancing and drumming. A good rumbero must understand all three of these components, as it is essential to accompany the singers properly during the verses, and in turn support and inspire the dancers who will enter during the call and response section (the estribillo or montuno) that is coming after the verses. In turn, the dance form of guaguanco is a beautiful interplay between a man and woman, acting out a “courtship” in which the woman tries to resist the advances of her partner, who attempts to “possess” her through a movement known as the “vacunao”. The drummers must understand these movements in order to play properly, as the quinto in particular (but actually of three of the drums) must follow along and “dialogue” with the male dancer.