"Guantanamera" as written by Jose Fernandez and Jose Marti, adapted by Pete Seeger. And Julian Orbon and Hector Angulo... And maybe Herminio Garcia Wilson, though he lost in court... It's complicated!

Poet Jose Marti wrote a book of poems way back in 1891. None of those poems has all these lyrics though -- the verses of the song are taken from four different poems from that book, chosen and arranged much later by Cuban composer Julian Orbon.

Pete Seeger adapted the Marti-Orbon lyrics for his version in 1963, which is what introduced the song to a wider audience outside of Cuba. Seeger left out the third of the four Marti-Orbon verses:

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

And subsequent recordings based on the Seeger arrangement have kept this three-verse form, so the original 3rd verse is rarely sung.

The melody seems to have been written by Jose (Joseito) Fernandez, way back in 1929, but this is not well documented and has been disputed. Herminio Garcia Wilson claimed he co-wrote it, saying he wrote the refrain part, "Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera". Decades later, his family lost in Cuban court though, so the melody credit officially goes only to Fernandez.

The Fernandez lyrics are very different from the Marti-Orbon lyrics. Although the Fernandez version of the song is older, the Marti-Orbon-Seeger version of the song (with verses from 1891) is the one we all know.

The original song had the title Guantanamera (which doesn't appear in any of the Marti verses). The lyrics were about a love affair with a Guantanamera, which means a woman from Guantanamo. (Yes the same place where the USA has the horrible prison, but this song has nothing to do with the prison.) "Guajira" means "peasant woman" or "country girl".

Fernandez performed it weekly on his radio show, always changing the lyrics, including new verses each week based on current events. Probably not recorded or documented, so there's no definitive version of those lyrics.

Seeger's adaptation of the Marti-Orbon version made it famous internationally, mostly through the top-40 hit version by the Sandpipers in 1966, and that is pretty much the only version that is sung today. Maybe the Fernandez lyrics are remembered and performed still in Cuba, but they are unknown to listeners elsewhere.

Seeger's version was based on a performance of the song by Hector Angulo, and Angulo was given a writer's credit on the Sandpipers hit record.

Such a complicated story for such a simple song.

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