In the 19th century here grew up in Santiago de Cuba a group of itinerant musicians who moved around earning their living by singing and playing the guitar. Probably, this kind of life had been going on for some time; but it comes into focus when we learn about named individuals who left their marks on Cuban popular music. Pepe Sanchez, born Jose Sanchez (Santiago de Cuba, 19 03 1856 – 03 01 1918), is known as the father of the trova style and the creator of the Cuban bolero. Untrained, but with remarkable natural talent, he composed numbers in his head and never wrote them down. As a result, most of these numbers are now lost, but two dozen or so survive because friends and disciples wrote them down. He was the model and teacher for the great trovadores who followed.
The Cuban bolero traveled to Mexico and the rest of Latin America after its conception, where it became part of their repertoires. Some of the bolero's leading composers have come from nearby countries, most especially the great and prolific Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández; another example being Mexico's Agustín Lara. Some Cuban composers of the bolero are listed under Trova.
In Cuba the bolero is usually written in 2/4 time, elsewhere often 4/4. The tempo for dance is about 120 beats per minute. The music has a gentle Cuban rhythm related to a slow son, which is the reason it may be described as a bolero-son. Like some other Cuban dances, there are three steps to four beats, with the first step of a figure on the second beat, not the first. The slow (over the two beats #s four and one) is executed with a hip movement over the standing foot, with no foot-flick.
Frédéric Chopin wrote a bolero for solo piano; Louis Lefébure-Wély wrote Boléro de Concert for organ; and Maurice Ravel's Boléro is his most famous work, originally written as a ballet score but now usually played as a concert piece. Ravel's Boléro was originally called Fandango, and is certainly not a bolero as described in this article. In some cases the root lies, not in the bolero, but in the habanera, a Cuban precursor of the tango, which was a favourite dance rhythm in the mid-19th century.