Musica fix: Translating music, from Cuba to the rest of the world

February 10, 2016 5:15 pm


Guantánamo is well known by all for hosting the US prison camp that takes its name; however, not many people know that in Guantánamo, a beautiful beach town in the Southern part of the Cuban island, the famous song ‘Guantanamera’ (meaning girl from Guantánamo) was originated.

Yet its origins are not certain, there is a version of the story that begins in the early 20th century. According to that, the song was first played after a group of workers catcalled a local girl in the street, who reacted in not a very friendly manner, provoking the group of men to yell at her something similar to: “who does this guajira guantanamera think she is?” That night, it is said, the cords of ‘Guantanamera’ were played for the very first time in the streets of Guantánamo.

The song later adopted verses of a well-known Cuban poet – José Martí – and it was popularized on a Cuban radio program in the mid-1930s by Joseito Fernández. Since then, ‘Guantanamera’ has been covered and adapted to many different music styles: folk, rock, hip-hop, dancehall; and translated into several languages such as English, French, Italian, Chinese or Welsh.

Italian version:

While the song ‘Guantanamera’ has gained popularity worldwide in the last century, the genre of music guajira, which goes back to the 18th century, has not achieved any recognition. Then, what makes this song so special? This is the type of questions a group of translators and musicians aim to explore in the Translating Music project.

“Why has a song like the Cuban patriotic Guantanamera been translated into so many languages and been popular all over the world since its creation in 1929? Do the spicy rhythm and easy lyrics turn on a desire for relaxed exoticism? Does its universal message of love and freedom appeal to victims of political oppression world-wide? Does it do both, invoking an idealised country and giving us hope of a freer existence as we hum its tune?”

French version:

In cooperation with several universities from London and Macerata (Italy), this group of linguists and music lovers organize workshops and events to better understand the interconnections between culture and language, in which the universal language of music plays very often an important role.

Its main project and the majority of past events mainly focused on opera, as it “has led the way successful translation provision to multilingual audiences and often appeals to an older public with some level of hearing or visual impairment”. But in the Translating Music project there is also a wide range of resources and other material related to music and translation that, in case this topic catches your attention, is definitely very useful to save.

Spanish version:



Latin Music [2 volumes]: Musicians, Genres, and Themes. 2014. Google books. [ONLINE] Available at:,+genres+and+themes+Vol.+2&source=bl&ots=F_np-DbTfr&sig=Q-Zm1gSbjZMUEj_dSPRyu_PJfr0&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Latin%20Music%3B%20Musicians%2C%20genres%20and%20themes%20Vol.%202&f=false. [Accessed 09 February 16].

Wikipedia/Guantanamera. 2016. Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 09 February 16].


Written by Ana Escaso Moreno
Trainee at TermCoord
Journalist & Social Media manager


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