It was an ordinary song: a guajira, a four-note son, simple, catchy, capable of admitting verses or tenths of any kind, and used by the singer from Havana Joseíto Fernandez to close one of the programs transmitted by the ancient radio station CMCO, from Cuba’s capital.
How did Guantanamera become into the best known song or the one most of the people who visit Cuba want to know about it? Who internationalized it with the verses of José Martí? What confusing story is behind its fame? Who is its real author? These are questions that give flavor to the myth of the tune. If you are interested, just read below.
When Joseíto Fernandez was still virtually unknown in the Cuban music scene, he made Guantanamera popular on the radio. In several interviews he said to have used it both to congratulate girls from any province (changing the name guantanamera by the one of other province) or to ask for clemency for a worker who had lost his job. It was the 30s of the twentieth century.
Some advertisers of the now defunct TV station CMQ, attracted by its success, associated the song with commercial publicity and with the red chronicle, and after 1959 Joseíto Fernandez used it in the program El suceso del día to accompany the summary of national events. Journalist Reynaldo Cedeño Pineda tell us about this on his research work ¨ La Guantanamera en la tierra del diablo ¨, included in the book El hueso en el papel published by Editorial Oriente in 2011.
It is in 1942 when Fernandez inscribed it in the Property Registry of Cuba as his and legitimizes the well known couplets of the peasant tune. Later, in 1963, American Peter Seeger premieres it in the U.S. using some José Martí´s Simple Verses, an idea that belongs to the Spanish-Cuban composer Julián Orbón.
Joseíto claimed his copyright to the American who traveled to Havana in 1971 and they understood each other. But, to the astonishment of all Cuba, in 1993, another copyright claim started. This time from Guantanamo.
And the controversy begins…
A famous 4 string-guitar player, Herminio Garcia, 89, from Guantanamo, nicknamed ¨ Wilson The Devil¨ for his musical ability, declared he is the author of the first four bars of the song. Joseíto Fernandez had already died.
The trial was conducted where the demand was originated. The Fernandez family did not attend. In a sworn statement to attorney Maria Eugenia Arranz Oliva, on May 12, 1993, Garcia told in 1929 he was invited to play at Carlos Manuel Street, No. 664, between Paseo and Narciso Lopez, in the city of Guantanamo, and he looked for the musicians who always accompanied him:
" ( …) At twenty past eight in the evening, we were all, I began to warm my fingers in the three strings guitar, and at that very moment, a girl passes and Joaquin Ramirez [later he rectified and said it was Pipi Corona] said something as a flattering comment, though in those years it was not very common to say something to women on the street […], she responded with rude words and he said: " what does this Guajira Guantanamera (Guantanamo peasant lady) thinks of herself ".
Precisely thus was born the famous Guajira Guantanamera, and it was Pipi Corona the first who sang it, right there in the corner and then we entered the little party at Toto Bosch´s home, where his daughter ( Zoila) played it by piano […] that is the true story of the Guajira Guantanamera ".
The allegation, as stated in the newspaper Venceremos of that time, matches with a document of 1980 where Wilson the Devil tells the story. The musicians who accompanied him that day corroborated the story in court.
However, how does the song get to Havana? Wilson says in the 30s a quartet formed by Pipi Corona, Joaquin Garcia, Juan Limonta and Rigoberto Hechavarria, made a tour to the capital of Cuba and La Guantanamera was included in its repertoire.
Why didn´t you claim for your copyrights before? Yes I did, he said. In an interview with Karina Rodriguez, a reporter from Guantanamo, he explains that first he tried to register the song under his name but he was told it had to have at least 16 bars and it only had four. Then in 1972, he told everything the investigator Alberto Muguercia, then a member of the Historical-Cultural Research Center of Jose Marti National Library, but he replied that it was very difficult to overturn Joseíto´s authoring.
The radio station CMKS, based in Guantanamo, through the program El reclamo del Diablo, exhibited that same year the "historical fissure" in the testimony of Joseíto Fernandez regarding the date of emergence of the tune that was supported by Wilson´s version. These statements were based on interviews he granted to the press in which he mentioned different years of creation, and other authoritative sources.
Even so the jury’s decision, which would then be ratified by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Cuba, favored Joseíto, Fernandez. The song that Juan Marinello cataloged as "a melancholic and dominating creation", which has been brought to the craziest rhythms and translated into many languages, remained in the property of the man that made it popular.
And Wilson the Devil, although he didn´t earned the copyright of the song, at least helped La Guantanamera to increase the palatability of the endless controversies and good stories.