Songs of the Sea: Guantanamera

Wow! Another week’s gone by and it’s time for another Song of the Sea. This week, I found this old classic Guantanamera. I remember singing it along with my friends in school as we traveled around the world on the Ariadne.

It’s really a traditional song, from Cuba, but it’s still a good one to listen to and to sing along with.

I’m not actually sure why it’s considered a sailing song now that I understand the lyrics. But it’s one I’ve heard in a lot of sailors bars around the world, and it does make me think of those good old days, so I’ll include it here.

Guantanamera

 [Estribillo:]
Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera
Guantanamera, guajira, guantanamera
 
Yo soy un hombre sincero, de donde crece la palma
Yo soy un hombre sincero, de donde crece la palma
Y antes de morir yo quiero cantar mis versos del alma
 
[Estribillo]
 
Cultivo una rosa blanca, en julio como en enero
Cultivo una rosa blanca, en julio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero, que me da su mano franca
 
[Estribillo] (2x)
 
Mi verso es de un verde claro, y de un carmín encendido
Mi verso es de un verde claro, y de un carmín encendido
Mi verso es un ciervo herido, que busca en el monte amparo
 
[Estribillo] (2x)
 
And since I still don’t know Spanish well enough, here’s the English translation…

Guantanamera

Chorus))
 
Guantanamera, guajira* (Peasant) guantanamera
Guantanamera, guajira, guantanamera
 
I’m a sincere man , I’m from where growing palm (leaf), I’m a sincere man , I’m from where growing palm leaf
and before I die I want to sing my verses of my soul
 
Chorus
 
I cultivate a white rose, in july as well as January
I cultivate a white rose in july as well as january,
to my sincere friend, who give me sincerity
(2 x)
 
My verse is like a light green colour and also carmine
My verse is like a light green colour and also carmine
my verse is an injured serf which looks for refuge/protection
 
Chorus 2x))
It goes much better in Spanish (IMHO)!
I’ve known this song for a long time, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen any explanation of the story…

the lyrics to the song relate to a woman from Guantánamo, with whom he had a romantic relationship, and who eventually left him. The alleged real story behind these lyrics is that she did not have a romantic interest in him, but merely a platonic one. If the details are to be believed, she had brought him a steak sandwich one day as a present to the radio station where he worked. He stared at some other woman (and attempted to flirt with her) while eating the sandwich, and his friend yanked it out of his hands in disgust, cursed him and left. He never saw her again. These words are rarely sung today

Another history behind the chorus and its lyrics (“Guantanamera … / Guajira Guantanamera …”) is similar: he was at a street corner with a group of friends and made a courteous pass (a polite pick-up line, like “your mother made you good” or “you came from a star”, piropo in Spanish) to a woman (who also happened to be from Guantánamo) who walked by the group. She answered back rather harshly, offended by the pass. Stunned, he could not take his mind off her reaction while his friends made fun of him; later that day, sitting at a piano with his friends near him, he wrote the song’s main refrain.

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