Discussion in 'Salsa Music' started by Salsa Bear, Jan 31, 2012.

  1. Salsa Bear

    Salsa Bear Sabor Ambassador

    It isn't salsa, but I wondered if there are any Cubanos here who could give me some insights into "Guantanamera."

    I just published an article about it at

    But one thing that confuses me is the chorus...

    I discovered that guajira simply means "country girl," or "rural lady."

    Then I read on another website that guajira is also a type of rhythm. No problem, but the author says "Guajira Guantanamera" refers to the rhythm, not the rural girl.

    Is this true? I don't know Spanish well enough to "feel" the meaning or completely understand the context. Another possibility is that the poet/songwriter cleverly used a word with a dual meaning - country girl AND rhythm.

    Also, is there some special significance to Guantanamo that I should be aware of? Is it known as an especially beautiful area, or is it known for its farms or campesinos?

    Is Guantanamo Bay merely the coastal area of larger called Guantanamo, or are there two different locales called Guantanamo?

  2. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    It's a good question actually. I saw an article where someone was saying that everyone is wrong when they think that the chorus is referring to the music style, that it was actually written for a girl. But I really can't say who is right about it. It could be a clever play on words but probably they are referring to a girl from Guantánamo. I have never heard anything that the lyrics were changed and Martí's poem was substituted for some original "forgettable" lyric.

    As for Guantánamo per se. It is the most eastern province of Cuba. The capital city is also called Guantánamo and the US naval base is in a bay in the guantánamo province. So Guantánamo to a Cuban means the city while guantánamo bay is the naval base.

    I visited Guantánamo in 2007 for the National Changüí festival. It's not a big city but it's not a "village" either. there are plenty of rural ares around Guantánamo.

    Some relevant links IMO

    There is a group called Buena Fe (trova-pop/rock) that comes from Guantánamo. I highly recommend them. They did a song called Guantanamero on their first CD and it plays off the Guantanamera theme but is all about Guantanamo and what it is to be a Guantanamero.
    This is a clip form a recent DVD where they lead into guantanamero from Guantanamera. (the part at the beginning they are arguing over whose going to do the intro) Oh and Israel messes up the lyrics of Guantanamero as you'll see if you watch the whole song. hahaha

    This video is a little interview in Yateras which is in the mountains outside of Guant'anamo. Pipi is leader of a traditional changüí group. Here he's talking about Elio Revé Matos, foudner of Orquesta Revé who died in a car accident in 1997. This is at a changüí party at "casa de pipi". A genuine "guajiro"

    Here is a video (in Spanish) on the subject that Guantanamo is not the naval base actually uses the Buena fe song as a background music
  3. terence

    terence Maestro 'Descarga' Cachao

    But it is.. its also written in a Rumba, Bolero , and Son style.
  4. Salsa Bear

    Salsa Bear Sabor Ambassador

    Oh, that's right - Celia Cruz sang it. But what style is The Sandpipers' version?

  5. terence

    terence Maestro 'Descarga' Cachao

    I do have that ( among 6 others ) and if I recall, its a Guajira or Cha ?..
  6. sweavo

    sweavo Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    I read [ned sublette again] that the refrain of Guantanamera was used on Cuban radio (I think in the '20s) in between verses composed on news topics of the day. So the refrain became really well known across a wide area of Cuba. Whether the accompaniment was a guajira style I don't know. It's only a small leap (or failure) of imagination to put lyrics containing the word "guajira" along to a rhythm of the same name, though...

    It should be noted that not only does guajir@ mean country person but it also has connotation of a pride and toughness associated with rural life.
  7. tocatimba

    tocatimba Shine Officer

    You call an habanera a "guajira" and see what kind of reaction you get! :)
  8. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    I wonder what word people use in an insulting manner to refer to Havanans. For example the people in Havana call people from Eastern Cuba "Palestinos". In Sweden poeple call Stockholmers "08s" as a derrogatory term because that's the area code for Stockholm...Maybe the eastern Cubans just say habanero/a and it means something derrogatory to them ;)

    EMOYENO Pattern Police

    There is no girl.... the girl is refering to the actual gender for Guajira ?????
    Isnt the term "guajira" to be genderalized (?) as a female, therefore Guajira Guantanamera is just refering to the term guajira. If it was a Son, it would called Son Guantanamero. ??? That's how I understand it clearly. It makes sense in the lyrics
  10. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    either that or it means a guajira from guantanamo. as opposed to a guajira from Santiago

    EMOYENO Pattern Police

    Well it is a guajira from guantanamo, no doubt about that (there is no either). The song is simply putting a gender (a female) to guajira, so it makes sense Guajira Guanatamera. If it was a Guajira from Santiago it would be termed Guajira Santiaguina.

    Gentilicios is the spanish term, when refering to people to belong to a specific region.
    Example: "What are people from Boston called?" (Bostonians) - a Bostonian Guajira ... LOL just an example.

    so the song in Guajira Guantamera is not about a girl, its the guajira that is being labeled a girl.

    If someone invented a Son from Guantanamo, it would be called "Son Guanatamero" or from Santiago... "Son Santiaguino".
    Bachata Dominicana - there's no girl in this, Bachata is from Dominican Republic, the term Dominicana means it belongs to that region. Salsa Cubana - Salsa Puertorriqueña - Salsa Caleña - Merengue Dominicano - Tango Argentino - Milonga Argentina

    Same thing with the famous Guajira Guantanamera, its a guajira that belongs to Guantanamo.
  12. Salsa Bear

    Salsa Bear Sabor Ambassador

    Oops, I posted before you edited your post. I understand now; that makes perfect sense.

    Thanks for all the tips!
  13. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Well that's what I have always thought because the words have nothing to do with a woman. But then there are plenty of people who have written that everyone who thinks is is referring to a musical guajira instead of a person guajira is wrong. Now if the story is true that the song was originally written about a girl and the the lyrics of Martí's poem were substituted for the original lyrics it would make more sense that the coro refers to a girl from Guantanamo even if the changed lyrics no longer do.

    [Insert 2 hour break in this post for internet searching and translation I'm back]
    OK I searched some Cuban sites and in general there is no question that the song had different lyrics. It also seems that the melody itself was an old, traditional melody that existed prior to the 20th century but that it was Joseito Fernandez who made a huge hit of it through his popular radio program where he would improvise new verses about what was happening in Cuba in the decima form using the guantanamera melody. Eventually the Martí lyrics were substituted, and the format of the lyrics was changed from decima to cuarteta which changed the phrasing of the song. That still doesn't seem to say whether the coro really was about a girl while the verses could be about anything.

    A Radio Cuba article

    My translation of an excerpt from the article:
    It is in this decade, exactly the year 1928, in which he create his famous guajira-son “Guajira Guantanamera” over a chorus or montuno that repeated Mi linda guajira/guajira guantanamera, as a distinctive tune, whose improvisations didn't follow the traditional form of son like the cuartetas or "reginas", but the form of seguidilla, or that is of various décimas sung without interruption, which made it possible to sing or narrate facts or historical events and social occurrences without interruption. Thus, this music, as that of the old Spanish ballads, later became to the inspired and young troubadour, one of the most famous authors of Cuban popular music, when the North American singer Pete Seeger, during a recital in New York in 1960, sang and recorded for the first time la Guajira Guantanamera with the Versos Sencillos of José Martí.

    Of course he could just be saying that the guajira song was linda, although I would tend to see think of him as talking about a woman.

    And this seems to be the Cuban version of Wikipedia, which has basically the same story as the English Wikipedia, although with more details.

    And possibly the article I've found yet is a 4 part series.
    The part talking about the song referring to a woman is part 2 written by Dr. Cristobal Diaz Ayala. Here is an excerpt (my translation):
    According to the account of Enrique C. Betancourt in his magnificent book, Joseíto told him that he had sung the tune la Guantanamera under any name on other radio stations, «sometimes it was guajira guantanamera; others, guajira vueltabajera, guajira holguinera or guajira camagüeyana;but he never sang it as guajira santiaguera.» [Michelle's Note: Habaneros and Santiagueros don't like each other] The final decision to give it the name of the peasant woman from Guantánamo came when he fell in love with a girl from there, who was very jealous and saw him talking to another woman and she left him, that day he sang la Guajira Guantanamera like never before and the audience really liked it and they wrote and called the radio station «keep singing like this (...) and from then on he sang to the guajira guantanamera.»

    ...«It demonstartes that la Guantanamera in itself is not a song. Simply a chorus and that you could use any text. In contrast, most sones have their own lyrics. But it seems that la Guantanamera in it's primitive form, didn't have it's own or fixed lyrics.»...

    ...This makes us consider what Professor Valois noted: «And if indeed it was Joseíto who gave it this title and introduced the lyrics of the chorus, then it is legitimate to consider him as the creator of the modern Guantanamera»...

    Interesting topic...although the question of the meaning of "guajira" wasn't the only one, but also questions about the Guantánamo region, which I tried to address a bit with my original comments and video links.
  14. Salsa Bear

    Salsa Bear Sabor Ambassador

    Wow, that was a more confusing (but interesting) story than I expected. I made some major revisions and put the article online at

    Thanks for all the tips. ;)
  15. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    Wow! The article sure grew :)

    One of the things I though was funny/interetsing in the 4 part series was taht they said that "sining la guantanamera" became a saying in Cuba, since Joséto Fernandez would sing about the social and political events of the day. So if someone brought up a controversial subject for example we might say "watch out or he'll get on his soapbox", they might have said "watch out or he'll sing la guantámera". I don't know if peolpe still use tha expression today.

    Oh also apparently Wyclef Jean was inspired to do a version, his modern adaptation, as well.

    BTW: I see you included a link to the Guantanamero video with Buena Fe. In the background you see the statue of Martí overlooking the stage and later in the interview Israel says that he felt like the spirit of Martí was with them watching the concert that night :)

    EMOYENO Pattern Police

    Loved the entire article, you've covered every aspect. Very nicely done. :rocker:
  17. Salsa Bear

    Salsa Bear Sabor Ambassador

    Wow, a person could write a book about "Guantanamera." I added some more material just now. It's amazing how some songs seem to take on a life of their own.

    Joseito Fernandez lived through the 1970's, and it looks like he had a lot more to say about "Guantanamera," though I haven't had time to translate any of the articles I found yet.
  18. Salsa Bear

    Salsa Bear Sabor Ambassador

    Odd, it says "The uploader has not made this video available in your country." Is this the same video? --

    There are several videos featuring clips of Wycef Jean and/or Celia Cruz, but I haven't yet sorted them out. It's really confusing when people splice videos together. ;)
  19. timberamayor

    timberamayor Maestro 'Guaguanco' Rodríguez

    The song is the same but the other video is the actual "official video" MTV style.

    This is pretty much the same except for some reason this video has the celia cruz intro cut off.

    We'll have to keep checking out you article as you update it :)

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