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Guantanamera – A Song of Liberty and Love

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Guantanamera – A Song of Liberty and Love

Guajira is a musical form which evokes a rural ambience in its texts, instrumentation and style. In the years around 1900 a style of guajira emerged in association with Cuban music theater. The music is a mixture of 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms. According to Sánchez de Fuentes, its first section is in a minor key, its second section in a major key.

Guantanamera

In general, the songs in this repertoire are no longer well known in Cuba. Hence, for most Cubans, "guajira" connotes a quite different genre that emerged in the 1930s, as a sort of fusion of the "son" and the guajira, the "guajira-son," in 4/4 time. It resembled the son in rhythm, but presented a rural ethos by foregrounding the guitar (or tres) more than horns, percussion, or piano.

“Guantanamera (Guajira Guantanamera)” is a song of Guantánamo. Guantánamo is the name of a province and a town at the east end of the island of Cuba.

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Guantanamo, downtown

 

Guantanamera, in the form, is a guajira-son. The song is one of Cuba’s most famous songs, and is hailed as being their greatest patriotic piece.

The music, often erroneously called “traditional” was in fact composed by one Joseíto Fernández Diaz (1908 to 1979), who used it on his radio show, improvising comments on daily events in the song, the structure of which lent itself to such a use.

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Joseito Fernandez

 

Originally the lyrics written to the music by Fernández referred to a young woman from Guantanamo, with whom he either had or wanted to have a relationship. The history is a little vague on this.

What is not vague is that Cuban composer Julián Orbón (1925 to 1991), who studied under Aaron Copeland at Tanglewood in 1946, adapted words from the first poem, "Yo soy un hombre sincero", in the 1899 collection Versos Sencillos by famed Cuban poet José Julián Martí Pérez (usually known simply as José Martí) into the song.

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Julián Orbón

 

One of Orbón's students, Hector Angulo, introduced the song to Pete Seeger, at a summer camp in the Catskills. While Seeger is modest about his role, he was, in fact, the catalyst for Marti's fame through song around the world.

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Pete Seeger

 

One of the huge reasons for the success of "Guantanamera" is its very simple musical structure. This has allowed it, over the years, to be used for any number of verses, some improvised, some prepared ahead of time. As a result, the song could be used for political purposes quite easily, with a catchy melody to help the refrain and message sink in to the listeners’ minds.

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Jose Marti

 

Fernández's first use of the song was precisely this; he would comment on daily events on his radio program by adapting them to the song's melody, and then using the song as a show closer. Through this use, "Guantanamera" became a popular vehicle for romantic, patriotic, humorous, or social commentary lyrics, in Cuba and elsewhere in the Spanish speaking world.

 

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Jose Fernandez

 

Spanish lyrics:


Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

Chorus:
Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera
Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmin encendido
Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmin encendido
Mi verso es un ciervo herido
Que busca en el monte amparo

I am a truthful man from this land of palm trees
Before dying I want to share these poems of my soul
My verses are light green
But they are also flaming red

(the next verse says,)
I cultivate a rose in June and in January
For the sincere friend who gives me his hand
And for the cruel one who would tear out this
heart with which I live
I do not cultivate thistles nor nettles
I cultivate a white rose

Cultivo la rosa blanca
En junio como en enero
Qultivo la rosa blanca
En junio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca

Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazon con que vivo
Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazon con que vivo
Cardo ni ortiga cultivo
Cultivo la rosa blanca

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace mas que el mar 

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Jose Fernandez

 

Guantanamera in English


I am a truthful man
From where the palm tree grows
And before dying I want
To let out the verses of my soul

My verse is light green
And it is flaming red
My verse is a wounded stag
Who seeks refuge on the mountain

I grow a white rose
In July just as in January
For the honest friend
Who gives me his open hand

With the poor people of the earth
I want to cast my lot
The brook of the mountains
Gives me more pleasure than the sea 

 

Last Updated (Saturday, 21 March 2015 14:38)

 

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