Some songs just seem to have a global appeal. They spread their wings and touch hearts far beyond their own country’s borders. Guantanamera is one such song. It was originally written in 1929 by Jose Fernandez Diaz and was about a beauty from Guantanamo who spurns the singer’s advances. However, it was when Julian Orbon paired the song with lyrics adapted from the first poem of the collection ” Versos Sencillos” (Simple Verses) by Cuban poet and independence hero, Jose Marti, that it rapidly rose to the status of unofficial Cuban national anthem.
Even in Malaysia, we used to learn to sing this song at schools and universities. We sang it at gatherings, at picnics and at campfire. This is a little surprising as most Malaysians don’t know any Spanish, let alone how to pronounce Spanish lyrics. We have little historical contact with Spain and almost none with Cuba. Yet most Malaysians when I was growing up knew and loved the song.
But I knew nothing about the meaning of the song or about Jose Marti until I chanced across a performance of the song by Pete Seeger on the radio. Suddenly, the song became more than just a chant beside a campfire, it really touched the soul with its search for freedom, its yearning for peace and its willingness to forgive. Few poems have moved me as much especially knowing that Jose Marti died shortly after, as a result of living true to his beliefs.
It took me a very, very long time to find a video of that same performance by Pete Seeger. Hope you enjoy his rendition and his explanation of the song as well as the words below.Vodpod videos no longer available.
I am a truthful man,
From the land of the palm trees.
Before dying, I want to
Share these poems of my soul.
My poems are soft green,
But they are also flaming crimson.
My poems are like a wounded fawn,
Seeking refuge in the forest.
I cultivate a white 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 cultivate neither thistles nor nettles
I cultivate a white rose.
With the poor people of this earth,
I want to share my fate.
The little streams of the mountains
Pleases me more than the sea.