Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

AfroCubism – Guantanamera

What better way to enjoy this fine weather Britain is having than introducing a tropical blend to your weekly dose of Malian mastery? For long-standing followers of the Hub you’ll know that there is no better place to find this than in the glorious sounds of Cuba.It is perhaps also topical, as well as tropical, as Cuban-US relations thaw considerably this week.

Guantanamera is the quintessential and Cuba’s ‘most patriotic’ song; proliferating throughout Cuban society owing to the way lends itself to improvisation. As Jose Feliciano explains before his own live rendition it is similar to skiffle jazz music in the US and UK, with many variants recognised as Guantanamera, translated as “The Girl from Guantanamo”. Remarkably, the song has also been described as ‘a social newspaper‘ – used as “a popular vehicle  for romantic, patriotic, humorous, or social commentary”. The same power of Malian music has been long appreciated by the Hub, and perhaps this shared philosophy and functionality in the two country’s music is another explanation for why they sound so glorious when merged together.

The album AfroCubism is the younger sibling of the highly successful Buena Vista Social Club. AfroCubism actually represents more closely the idea for the original album, but an infamous story involving problematic visas and delayed post meant the the Malian musicians could not attend. So its been a long time coming and Guantanamera sits as the final track 0n this masterpiece of an album. Fittingly, the song focuses purely on the string instruments from both countries, which is arguably the most important aspect of their respective national music compositions. In this version the song, the kora and guitar happily call and response, replacing the lyrics that would usually improvise along the top of the very familiar Cuban rhythm. A sign of mutual respect and a shared sense of class, grace and good fun.


AfroCubism – Guantanamera

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