Saturday, August 09, 2008


You get 9 versions of it.
It's a song you know pretty well.
Even if you don't know what it's about!
Most people figure it's some kind of protest song.
Maybe a cheer about a home town.
Something to do with a type of dance?
Take a few guesses, and read on.
One thing most everyone agrees on, is that if you hear it too often, it's one of the most annoying songs of all times, especially as sung by white idiots who want the vicarious thrill of doing something Latino without getting an infection.
The worst of the 9 versions here is just such an example, as the usually tasteful Pete Seeger (sometimes credited as co-author) offers a most enthusiastically rotten rendition, with ludicrous over-pronunciations which include stereotypical Latino high-pitched ha-ha's and enough gutteral emphasis to hurl loogies out to the back row. It's enough to make you reach for the Alka-Salsa.
Ironically a black version might well be worse than this white one, thanks to the obnoxious rap of Wyclef Jean. Laconic, sullenly cool rhyme-dictionary dribblings about some Hispanic piece of ass bump and grind all over a torpid version of the actual tune. At least the rap part makes it somewhat clear what the song is about.
It's about a chick.
The song is actually no more profound than "The Girl from Ipanema."
José Fernández wrote his first set of lyrics about a girl from Guantanamo (a "Guantanamera") back in 1929. It was just your typical, "That girl's hot, she could care less about me" deal, and later, a chorus was added to it, which is where all the idiots in the room shout "Guajira Guantanamera," like they're about to kill somebody. All they're really doing is admiring how the woman moves. "Guajira" is a Cuban rhythm. Herminio Garcia wrote the chorus but never got a co-write credit, having pushed it all the way to the Cuban Supreme Court in 1993. Sometimes the song is co-credited to Pete Seeger, instead. He did popularize and arrange it for American audiences.
And no credit to Jose Marti, whose poem was used for the lyrics. Here's the translation for "Guantanamera," which is basically just as overbaked and pretentious as any similar plaint from Neil Diamond:
"I am a sincere man from where the palm tree grows. And before dying I want
to share the verses of my soul. My verse is light green and it is flaming crimson. My verse is a wounded deer who seeks refuge on the mountain..."
Yeah, get over it, amigo. The chick could care less.
"And for the cruel one who would tear out this heart with which I live. I do not cultivate nettles nor thistles. I cultivate a white rose."
There's something vaguely political and typically Cuban about the last stanza: "With the poor people of the earth I want to share my fate. The brook of the mountains gives me more pleasure than the sea."
Not some kind of political freedom rant, or a call to join and fight the good fight, it's just about a girl from Gitmo who is saying no. Almost as disappointing as when you learned that "La Cucaracha" was about a cockroach, and "La Bamba" was just babble nonsense to dance to.
Your download? There's a live performance from Pete Seeger in front of a mostly Latino audience. To Pete's credit, los hombres seem flattered by Seeger's outrageous accent. Perhaps they were glad he at least tried; the other folkie on the bill, ill folks legend Phil Ochs, demurred from singing in Spanish and offered instead his sincere "Bracero" in English. Plus: Los Lobos, Jose Feliciano, Joan Baez, Celia Cruz, Perez Prado, Nana Mouskouri, an instrumental from the London All Stars Steel Orchestra, and a bizarre Latino-rap thing from Wyclef Jean, who has a chorus singing the real lyrics while he embellishes things with oh-so-cool rap. He remembers a chick: "Yo...I axed her what's her name she said Guantanamera, remind me of a ol' Latin song my uncle used to play on a 45 when he used ta be alive..." Nice. "Mulatto, shook her hips like Delgado...hey yo standin' at da bar wid a Cuban cigar..."



whiteray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
whiteray said...

Thanks for the assortment. I should also thank you for tipping me to Patti Dahlstrom a while back. I went and found all four of her albums and posted them at my place, and I've heard from her -- quite pleasantly -- a couple of times. Thanks!

Ill Folks said...

Hiya Whitey, thanks for the update on Dahlstrom's doings. Our loss is England's gain.

There's gold in them thar first three albums...some great melodies and lyrics...and of course that very unique voice.

In an odd way, vocally she was sort of a female Johnny Cash. Her voice may not have been pretty, sometimes you wondered what key she was in, but it was the real deal.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

great but line
I like your "bon gout"

Anonymous said...

Marti's lyrics have nothing to do with a woman. When his lyrics where introduced to the song, the song became a Cuban anthem for national independence. Marti wrote the lyrics soon after being killed in an insurrection against Spain. You need to understand Marti's influence on Spanish-American culture to better know the significance of the song.

Anonymous said...

Wow. SOMEONE'S grapes are sour!

aimee said...

"Marti wrote the lyrics soon after being killed in an insurrection against Spain" did he write lyrics AFTER being killed?