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Guantanamera

by

Pete Seeger



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This started out as a poem written by the Cuban writer Jose Marti (1853-1895). The poem is about a girl from Guantanamo and was written from the point of view of a Cuban revolutionary. In the early 1960s Pete Seeger heard Hector Angulo singing a Cuban folk song using Marti's words based on a traditional melody adapted by bandleader Joseito Fernandez. This was the time of the Cuban missile crisis and the peace activist Seeger decided to adapt it in honor of Marti. He combined Marti's original Spanish with spoken English and made it into a song for the peace movement.
In 1966, a Los Angeles folk trio called The Sandpipers recorded a version of this that hit #7 in the UK and #9 in the US.
The song is made of two parts which do not have any relation whatsoever:

Part 1 - In the 19th century, an anonymous popular song circulates with the words "guarija guantanamera," which means peasant-woman from Guantanamo. It was collected and arranged in 1932 by Joseito Fernandez, who made it the hallmark of his orchestra and popularized it as a dance called "Guajira-son," which he used in place of "Bolero" in closing every ball. "La Guajira is therefore the name of a dance too.

Part 2 - It's not before 1958 that Julian Orbon combined this popular refrain with some quatrains taken at random from the immense poem Versos Sencillos (simple verses) by Jose Marti. It commences with, "Yo soy un ombre sincero," but you have to wait for hundreds of verses before finding: "Con los pobres de la tierra." At last words well in line with the acclaimed Seeger -Guthrie protest song style. Marti never mentioned any Guajira from Guantanamo in those verses. As in many popular songs, you can't find any logical link between the verses and the refrain. (thanks, Denis - Paris, France)
Pete Seeger
More Pete Seeger songs
More songs inspired by poems
More songs with foreign words in the lyrics

Comments (6):

On December 17th 1966 the Sandpipers performed "Guantanamera" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
Five months earlier on July 24th it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on September 11th it peaked at #9 (for 1 week) and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
It was track number one from their album of the same name; the album produced another Top 100 record ("Louie, Louie", which reached #30)...
Model Dolores Erickson appeared on album's cover; she was the beauty who also was on the cover of Herb Alpert's 1965 LP 'Whipped Cream & Other Delights'.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
A little historical fact: Marti died 1895. So he did not write anything 1899 I would think...
- Pedro, Habana, Cuba
When you are a student songs like Guantanamera inspires you. The effect it has on engineers, scientists and real-producers is different. Makes them try harder. I was so surprised/pleased to see Siddhartha name a comments on this song too. We are both from IIT, Madras, India
- Ebby Sargunar, Rugby, United Kingdom
The english translation for the song reads : " I am a truthful man ( Yo soy un hombre sincero ), From the land of the palm trees ( de donde crece la palma ) . .. And before I die ( Y antes de morirme quirero ) , I like to share the songs of my soul (echar mis versos del alma) . .. My songs are like soft whisper ( Mi verso es de un verde claro ) , And of a crisom red (y de un carma an encendido ). ..My songs are a wounded doe (Mi verso es un cievo herido), That search of a protected mountain (que busca en el monte amparo ). .. With the poor of the earth / land (Con los pobres de la tierra ), I would like to cast my fate (quiero yo mi suerte echar ). ... The stream of the mountain range (El arroyo de la sierra ), Pleases me more than the sea (me complace mas que el mar) .
- Mike, Franklin County, PA
Actually I think the song is more a symbol of Pete Seeger. It's probably the song he's most famous for...case and point it's only one of two of his songs listed on SongFacts even though he wrote and recorded volumes more.
- Heather, Los Angeles, CA
It's ironic that a song which is regarded almost as a symbol of the Cuban nation talks of a part of Cuba which is still held my the USA.
- Siddhartha, New Delhi, India
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