Havana in the 1950s was Las Vegas with beaches. Affluent North Americans escaped to Cuba to indulge in cigars, sex, rum, and affordable luxury. Leading hotels and casinos boasted of dance halls and large orchestras. Modeled after popular New York orchestral combos, these tourism-generated bands infused popular music from the United States with the instruments and rhythms of Cuba, Africa, and the Caribbean.
The result was explosive. The mambo quickly busted out of the glitzy cabarets and into the buzzing streets of Havana. Small, private social clubs, of the type immortalized in the 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club, began springing up on every street corner. Organized by neighborhood, by occupation, and by social status, these clubs helped nurture a strong community-based sense of the new Cuban music.