The Folk Process: Guantanamera

At the center of what we call “Folk Music” is something called the “Folk Process.” The phrase was coined by Pete Seeger’s father, musicologist Charles Seeger, to describe the way songs are received, reinterpreted and transformed from one generation to the next. The history of the Cuban song Guantanamera is a pretty good example.

The song first gained popularity in Cuba on the radio programs of José Fernández Diaz, who created new verses of the song for his show based on current events of the day. As a result, the song became a vehicle for all sorts of themes and commentary through the years.

Cuban composer Julián Orbón adapted some verses of poet (and hero of Cuban independence) José Julián Martí Pérez to the song, and that was the basis for Pete Seeger’s version, which he contributed to the Peace Movement in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a sign of solidarity between the American and the Cuban people. A subsequent recording of the song by The Sandpipers was a top ten hit in the United States and in Great Britain in 1966.

The video above is from a performance at Wolftrap on August 8, 1993. It’s beautiful how Pete leads the audience to sing.