Friday, July 17, 2009

Arranging for Guitar: Guantanamera - "Joseito" Fernandez

This is one of those songs I've loved since I was a boy. The version I first heard does not seem to be on YouTube, as I was living in Panama at the time, and it was on a local Spanish language Panamanian AM station that I first heard it. Probably the most familiar version to those in the US is the classic version by The Sandpipers.

However, the real classic version seems to be this original version, which Joseito played on Cuban radio.

There seems to be more than a little confusion over the provenance of this song, and the "official" lyrics are actually written by Jose Marti. You can read the whole story at the Wikipedia entry.

In any case, the music I found is of a solo piano arrangement by, of all people, Pete Seeger. I can't post it because it's still under copyright, but a Google search will reveal it to you, though it's way out of the top results, so you'll need some determination.

The only solo guitar version of this I found on YouTube is by Edgar Cruz, an acquaintance of mine - his brother Mark and I were in the same graduating class at Texas State when we got our Master of Music degrees - but Edgar takes more of a Flamenco/Rumba approach to it.

Well, I don't play that Flamenco strumming style at all, so I wanted to stay true to myself and try to get Seeger's piano version onto the guitar as much as possible, but in a key that would work well for my instrument, and with a little of what I remember of my favorite versions from years past.

The piano music was in D major, and I thought of a drop-D version, but I already have Eu So Quero Um Xodo in drop-D, and I really need a crowd pleaser in E major, which works for the guitar as well, so that's what I did.

Here's the MIDI to m4a (AAC) version I made in iTunes: Guantanamera

Our four measure introduction is just a comp figure of parallel thirds with a bass line underneath. Seeger seemed unable to transcend his inner white guy, and so the syncopations I added at the end of measures one and three are not in his version. I thought that sounded hopelessly square, so I added those.

This is an interesting song, for one reason, because it starts with a chorus, and not a verse. I tried to add as much of the background as I could - which I incorporated into the bass line - to keep the groove going, and I think it came out quite nicely, though there are some tricky moves at the end of measure six. What you have to do when you write difficult things, is to ask yourself, is the musical payoff worth the effort? I'm not entirely sure yet, and won't be until I, you know, actually learn how to play it. So, this is very much a v1.0: I only did this arrangement a couple of nights ago.

I wanted the chorus dark and brooding, so it is in a low register, and I have the seconds there at the end, which is an effect I really, really like. The anticipatory syncopations are again something I added to get a cooler, more Latin feel. For the verse that starts at thirteen, however, I moved the melody up an octave from where it is in the piano version, which allows me to put the B, C-sharp, D lick in the middle, which you often hear in the background singing, or other instruments in the various arrangements. The eighth note thirds I have in fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, and twenty were quarter notes in Seeger's version, but again, that didn't sound authentically Cuban/Latin to me, so I went with the eighths.

At the last eighth of eighteen is a low F-sharp with a seventh-fret B in the lead. This is a heck of a stretch, and another one of those things I'll have to see about. It sounds cool, but it may not be worth the effort. Keep in mind I want to perform this. LOL!

Another interesting thing about this song is that the verses end with a modified version of the second phrase of the chorus. I had to return to the lower octave with the melody here, and fortunately - much good arranging involves happy accidents - this works excellently. The verse then repeats, and is followed by another full chorus. The Dal Segno takes the piece back to the head of the verse. In performance, I'll skip the repeat the second time through, but there's no way to instruct MIDI to do that (That would be a nifty update for Encore), and I wanted to keep this on two pages for this post. So, just pretend the second repeat isn't there in the m4a.

There are several good ways to end this piece, as listening to any of the good arrangements of it will reveal, but I chose to exit with the opening vamp, since it was only heard at the beginning, and it's really cool and quintessentially Latin. Not sure when I'll get around to this arrangement, as I'm going to start on some G major pieces next week, one of which is an arrangement of Bach's Jesu that I did over two years ago!

Absolutely must have an hispanic babe for this post; with freckles, no less!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this arrangement! I have been looking for this one about 5 years and I was too lazy to do my own transcription from fortepiano. :-) I think it is very strange that there was no guitar notes of this beautiful popular Cuban song in the Internet before. Thanks a lot and sorry for my English!

4:06 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

You're welcome, and your English is just fine.


4:31 PM  
Blogger rayos said...

also looking for a long time but I am beginnger. Any chance for a tab verion?

8:08 AM  
Blogger rayos said...

Thanks for posting. Also been looking but I am a beginner - is there a tab version? thanks

8:09 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Hi Reyos,

I have never finished with this, unfortunately, so I haven't even done the fingerings. I've also simplified the music some, but there is no TAB version since I don't use tablature.



10:27 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home