What is a Guantanamera?

Brendan McGuigan

Guantanamera means simply Girl from Guantanamo, a province and city in southeast Cuba. Guantanamera may refer to a number of things: a popular song, a less popular movie, and a Cuban cigar brand.

Guantanamera is a popular Cuban song.
Guantanamera is a popular Cuban song.

Guantanamera is the unofficial national anthem of Cuba.
Guantanamera is the unofficial national anthem of Cuba.

The song "Guantanamera" is one of Cuba’s most famous songs, and is hailed as being their greatest patriotic piece. The music for "Guantanamera" was originally written in 1929 by José Fernández Diaz, who used it in his radio show. It is uncertain whether Diaz came up with "Guantanamera" all on his own or, as is sometimes claimed, whether the basic structure of the song came from music already seen regularly by peasants in the region.

The original lyrics to "Guantanamera," also written by Diaz, are about a woman from Guantanamo, the quintessential Guantanamera. The story told is about his relationship with that woman, and her eventual departure. These original lyrics are rarely used in the song anymore, although the chorus remains. The story being the chorus, as told by Diaz, is that he was on the street with friends one day and made a pass at a woman who walked by. She was from Guantanamo, and was offended by the pass, responding harshly.

One of the huge reasons for the success of "Guantanamera" is its very simple musical structure. This has allowed it, over the years, to be used for any number of verses, some improvised, some prepared ahead of time. As a result, the song could be used for political purposes quite easily, with a catchy melody to help the refrain and message sink in to the listeners’ minds.

The lyrics most people are familiar with for "Guantanamera" were added later, by Julián Orbón, who adapted a famous poem by the Cuban poet José Martí, Versos Sencillos. Both the poet and the poem were already widely popular in Cuba, and once paired with a catchy, easy to remember melody, they created an unstoppable force that quickly became essentially the unofficial national anthem of Cuba.

A simple translation of the most well-known lyrics of "Guantanamera" read: 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, or in the woods. / I cultivate a white rose / In July the same as in January / For the sincere friend / Who gives me his honest hand. / 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. / 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.

Guantanamera is also a brand of cigars from Cuba, manufactured by the Corporacion Habanos in Cuba. It is also a brand manufactured in Florida by the Guantanamera Cigars Company.

Guantanamera is a brand of cigars manufactured in Cuba.
Guantanamera is a brand of cigars manufactured in Cuba.

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Discussion Comments


Great history on a region that has become famous (infamous?) for being the site of a controversial American prison for alleged terrorists. There's a lot more to the area than that.

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