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Definition of Tumbao

It is a Cuban expression widely used in urban music to designate the style and flavor that someone can have to dance.

Abbreviation of “tumbado”, which means knocked down or inclined.


  1. Grace, style
  2. Rhythm, swing or flavor


The word “tumbao” results from the abbreviation of tumbado. It is widely used among percussionists, as ‘tumbao’ refers to the basic rhythm that is played on a certain type of drum.

Then it was extended to designate the rhythm in general. It is also used as a more generalized concept, as it is said that when something has “tumbao” means it has a lot of feeling or “swing”.

However, the origins of this expression could have a close relationship with the drum called “tumbadora” which is widely used in salsa, merengue and Cuban timba.


The expression Tumbao, in its most generalized use, became very fashionable in many Latin American countries, mainly in Cuba, thanks to the famous singer Celia Cruz, when she hit her song “La Negra tiene Tumbao”.

In Puerto Rico it is also used to refer to a woman’s backside. For example, in the phrase “Se le ve el tumbao”.

In Venezuela or Colombia it can also mean to be robbed or swindled, in which case it becomes a verb, for example: “me tumbaron el móvil”.

But it is also possible to use it as an adjective: “a José le robaron le laptop, quedó tumbao”. It is quite likely that this usage is related to the origin of its abbreviation “tumbado”, referring to a person who has been knocked down by a negative event.

In popular culture, it can also refer to a person who does not want to get out of bed and stay lying down.