For many people, Cuban music is best captured by "son," the earthy genre at the heart of modern salsa.
But it represents just one facet of a musical culture that includes fiery modern dance bands and elegant orchestras.
Among the latter is Orquesta Aragon, a storied ensemble that performs tonight and Thursday at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.
Cuban dance bands are powerhouses of rhythm, musical institutions that pass the island's traditions from one generation to the next. That's certainly the case with Orquesta Aragon, which for more than seven decades has taken Cuban sounds around the world.
The band covers a century of Cuban popular music and culture, and its international tours have introduced millions to the variety of rich styles that make up its repertoire, musical director and violinist Rafael Lay, Jr. said.
"The band is an ambassador of Cuban sound from an earlier era, and of Cuban life," Lay said. "Because really, our music and numbers speak to the feeling of what Cuba has been during the 75 years our orchestra has been around."
Orquesta Aragon and its charanga sound exemplify the island's creole musical heritage, based on a combination of Spanish, African and other rhythms.
Late in the 19th century, emerging musical groups also began to experiment with French and Haitian influences and introduced violins, flutes and other instruments. African drums in the form of Cuban congas allowed bands to develop rhythms that would make the island's music inherently danceable.
Cuba's dance bands also drew heavily on jazz music and the collaborations island musicians had with their North American counterparts, Lay said.
"The influence of jazz cannot be denied, and there is a strong connection between Cuban music and jazz owing to the Cuban big bands," he said. "I'm talking about the big band of Beny More and others, a group of bands that developed our music. Even [Damaso] Perez Prado was influenced by jazz."
Orquesta Aragon has been a constant in Cuban music since its founding in 1939. Generations of musicians have grown up with the band and some of the musicians followed family members. Although the band's members and approach have changed over the years, ensuring a continuity of sound is important, said Lay, who has led the band since his father died in 1982.
As much as many people will think Orquesta Aragon is simply a charanga band, Lay said the musicians are fully immersed in the varied styles that make up Cuban popular music -- from son, danzon and bolero to cha cha cha, rumba, guajira and guaguanco.
"For us, charanga has to do with musical development," he said. "I know for other countries, for the world, charanga seems like a style or a genre of music. But in general if people think charanga means party, dance, music, that's perfect. ... [It's about] the time of music that we are going to play and the genres that we interpret that we have been interpreting for so long."
The band always starts with the cha cha cha, but on stage it will play everything. In recent years, it has incorporated elements of "timba," the streetwise contemporary music that has been the rage in Cuba for the last 15 years or so.
Lay said if the band can't master timba like younger Cuban bands, it will make sure it comes close to the rhythm. That, he said, should keep the dancers moving.
"I'll tell you that we're working in 2014, when timba has a very important space in today's Cuban music," he said. "With our ability, with our sound we are coming close to that style. So we also try to interpret it so that people will be happy."