Monday, June 1, 2015

Cuba Part 6: Guajira Guantanamela

I was in New York City when this song originated in Cuba and made it to Carnegie Hall in 1963 by folk singer Pete Seeger, and the group Sandpipers later popularized the song. The song was simple and an easy song to sing if you knew some Spanish.

However, I didn’t know that the song lyrics were written by Jose Marti (1853-1895), Cuba’s 'Walt Whitman' and “El Apostol” until very recently. Marti appears on Cuba’s one peso paper bill.

I tried to confirm Marti’s poem again and again by Googling Marti’s prolific “Simple Verses”. It’s true. The quoted popular lyrics are not in sequence, making the matter somewhat confusing, but the lyric was his. Then, each lyric is followed by the old local chorus "guantanamela” (a woman from Guantanamo) popularized by Cunban Singer-Song-writer Joseito Fernandez (1908-1979). Mind you, there seems to be more than 50 versions of Guantanamela in Cuba, sung by Joseito Fernandez, Celina Cruz, La Lupe, Tito Puente, Julio Iglesia, Die Taten Hosen, Demis Roussos Pepesito Reyes, and many others. Who created Marti’s version? Did someone match up the chorus with the lines from Marti’s poem and balance them?

It was Julian Orbon (1925-1991), a Spain-born Cuban pianist / composer, who studied under Aaron Copland at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. Aaron described him once as Cuba’s rising composer. Unfortunately he chose to flee from Cuba to Mexico to teach and later settled in New York. As a result, he wasn’t recognized as a Cuban musician. Ekran Angulo, who was Julian’s disciple, worked together with Pete Seeger and was instrumental in having Pete bring it to Carnegie.

Pete Seeger visited Cuba in 1971 and met the legendary Joseito Fernandez. Joseito never once left Cuba.

Guajiro/Guajira can be interpreted in many ways, but it first referred to indigenous farmers who were considered war heroes for the independence war against the oppressive Spanish landlords that took place in Eastern Cuba: Yara, Bayamo, and Santiago de Cuba. Cuban hymns were born there and now they are sung as Cuban Anthems. Guajira Guantanamela could be more popular than the Cuban Anthem Vayamesa. Vayamesa, too, has a number of versions, of which Vayamesa Mujer is my favorite:

Mujer Bayamesa, 3rd anthem of Cuba by Sindo Garay (1867-1968)

Lleva en su alma le bayamesa
tristes recuerdos de tradiciones
cuando contempla sus verdes llanos
lagrimas vierte por sus pasiones
(In her soul, the bayamo woman carries
sad memories of old traditions
when she looks at her green pastures
tears well up in her eyes)

Guantanamera (The Sandpipers)- Bich Thuy cover by Bich_Thuy

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