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The guaracha (Spanish pronunciation: [ɡwaˈɾatʃa) is a genre of music that originated in Cuba, of rapid tempo and comic or picaresque lyrics. Guaracha_sentence_0

The word had been used in this sense at least since the late 18th and early 19th century. Guaracha_sentence_1

Guarachas were played and sung in musical theatres and in low-class dance salons. Guaracha_sentence_2

They became an integral part of bufo comic theatre in the mid-19th century. Guaracha_sentence_3

During the later 19th and the early 20th century the guaracha was a favourite musical form in the brothels of Havana. Guaracha_sentence_4

The guaracha survives today in the repertoires of some trova musicians, conjuntos and Cuban-style big bands. Guaracha_sentence_5

Early uses of the word Guaracha_section_0

Though the word may be historically of Spanish origin, its use in this context is of indigenous Cuban origin. Guaracha_sentence_6

These are excerpts from reference sources, in date order: A Latin American carol "Convidando esta la noche" dates from at least the mid 17th century and both mentions and is a guaracha. Guaracha_sentence_7

It was composed or collected by Juan Garcia de Zespedes, 1620-1678, Puebla, Mexico. Guaracha_sentence_8

This is a Spanish guaracha, a musical style popular in Caribbean colonies. Guaracha_sentence_9

"Happily celebrating, some lovely shepherds sing the new style of juguetes for a guaracha. Guaracha_sentence_10

In this guaracha we celebrate while the baby boy is lost in dreams. Guaracha_sentence_11

Play and dance because we have fire in the ice and ice in the fire." Guaracha_sentence_12


  • The Gazeta de Barcelona has a number of advertisements for music that mention the guaracha. The earliest mention in this source is #64, dated 11 August 1789, where there is an entry that reads "...otra del Sr. Brito, Portugues: el fandango, la guaracha y seis contradanzas, todo en cifra para guitarra...". A later entry #83, 15 October 1796, refers to a "...guaracha intitulada Tarántula...".Guaracha_item_0_0
  • "Báile de la gentualla casi desusado" (dance for the rabble, somewhat old-fashioned). Leal comments on this: "The bailes de la gentualla are known on other occasions as bailes de cuna where people of different races mix. The guaracha employs the structure soloist–coro, that is to say, verses or passages vary between the chorus and the soloist, improvisation occurs, and references made to daily matters, peppered with crafty witticisms."Guaracha_item_0_1
  • "Una canción popular que se canta a coro... Música u orquesta pobre, compuesta de acordeón o guitarra, güiro, maracas, etc". (a popular song, which is sung alternately (call & response?)... humble music and band &c).Guaracha_item_0_2
  • "Cierto género musical" (a particular genre of music).Guaracha_item_0_3

These references are all to music; but whether of the same type is not quite clear. Guaracha_sentence_13

The usage of guaracha is sometimes extended, then meaning, generally, to have a good time. Guaracha_sentence_14

A different sense of the word means jest or diversion. Guaracha_sentence_15

Emergence of the Guaracha Guaracha_section_1

On January 20, 1801, Buenaventura Pascual Ferrer published a note in a newspaper called “El Regañón de La Havana,” in which he refers to certain chants that “run outside there through vulgar voices”. Guaracha_sentence_16

Between them he mentioned a “guaracha” named “La Guabina”, about which he says: “in the voice of those that sings it, tastes like any thing dirty, indecent or disgusting that you can think about…” At a later time, in an undetermined date, “La Guabina” appears published between the first musical scores printed in Havana at the beginning of the 19th century. Guaracha_sentence_17

According to the commentaries published in “El Regañón de La Habana”, we can conclude that those “guarachas” were very popular within the Havana population at that time, because in the same previously mentioned article the author says: “…but most importantly, what bothers me most is the liberty with which a number of chants are sung throughout the streets and town homes, where innocence is insulted and morals offended… by many individuals, not just of the lowest class, but also by some people that are supposed to be called well educated…”. Guaracha_sentence_18

Therefore, we can say that those “guarachas” of a very audacious content, were apparently already sung within a wide social sector of the Havana population. Guaracha_sentence_19

Buenaventura Pascual Ferrer mentions also that at the beginning of the 19th century up to fifty dance parties were held in Havana every day, where the famous “Guaracha” was sung and danced among other popular pieces. Guaracha_sentence_20

Guaracha as a dance Guaracha_section_2

There is little evidence as to what style of dance was originally performed to the guaracha in Cuba. Guaracha_sentence_21

Some engravings from the 19th century suggest that it was a dance of independent couples, that is, not a sequence dance such as the contradanza. Guaracha_sentence_22

The prototype independent couples dance was the waltz (early 19th century Vals in Cuba). Guaracha_sentence_23

The first creole dance form in Cuba known for certain to be danced by independent couples was the danzón. Guaracha_sentence_24

If the guaracha is an earlier example, this would be interesting from a dance history point of view. Guaracha_sentence_25

Guarachas in bufo theatre Guaracha_section_3

During the 19th century, the bufo theatre, with its robust humour, its creolized characters and its guarachas, played a part in the movement for the emancipation of slaves and the independence of Cuba. Guaracha_sentence_26

They played a part in criticising authorities, lampooning public figures and supporting heroic revolutionaries. Guaracha_sentence_27

Satire and humour are significant weapons for a subjugated people. Guaracha_sentence_28

In 1869 at the Teatro Villanueva in Havana an anti-Spanish bufo was playing, when suddenly some Spanish Voluntarios attacked the theatre, killing some ten or so patrons. Guaracha_sentence_29

The context was that the Ten Years' War had started the previous year, when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes had freed his slaves, and declared Cuban independence. Guaracha_sentence_30

Creole sentiments were running high, and the Colonial government and their rich Spanish traders were reacting. Guaracha_sentence_31

Not for the first or the last time, politics and music were closely intertwined, for musicians had been integrated since before 1800. Guaracha_sentence_32

Bufo theatres were shut down for some years after this tragic event. Guaracha_sentence_33

In bufos the guaracha would occur at places indicated by the author: guaracheros would enter in coloured shirts, white trousers and boots, handkerchiefs on their heads, the women in white coats, and the group would perform the guaracha. Guaracha_sentence_34

In general the guaracha would involve a dialogue between the tiple, the tenor and the chorus. Guaracha_sentence_35

The best period of the guaracha on stage was early in the 20th century in the Alhambra theatre in Havana, when such composers as Jorge Anckermann, José Marín Varona and Manuel Mauri wrote numbers for the top stage singer Adolfo Colombo. Guaracha_sentence_36

Most of the leading trova musicians wrote guarachas: Pepe Sánchez, Sindo Garay, Manuel Corona, and later Ñico Saquito. Guaracha_sentence_37

Lyrics Guaracha_section_4

The use of lyrics in theatre music is common, but their use in popular dance music was not common in the 18th and 19th centuries. Guaracha_sentence_38

Only the habanera had sung lyrics, and the guaracha definitely predates the habanera by some decades. Guaracha_sentence_39

Therefore, the guaracha is the first Cuban creole dance music which included singers. Guaracha_sentence_40

The Havana Diario de la Marina of 1868 says: "The bufo troupe, we think, has an extensive repertory of tasty guarachas, with which to keep its public happy, better than the Italian songs." Guaracha_sentence_41

The lyrics were full of slang, and dwelt on events and people in the news. Guaracha_sentence_42

Rhythmically, guaracha exhibits a series of rhythm combinations, such as 8 with 4. Guaracha_sentence_43

Alejo Carpentier quotes a number of guaracha verses that illustrate the style: Guaracha_sentence_44


  • Mi marido se murió,Guaracha_item_1_4
  • Dios en el cielo lo tieneGuaracha_item_1_5
  • y que lo tenga tan tenidoGuaracha_item_1_6
  • que acá jamás nunca vuelva.Guaracha_item_1_7


  • Guaracha_item_2_8
    • (My husband died,Guaracha_item_2_9
    • God in heaven has him;Guaracha_item_2_10
    • May he keep him so wellGuaracha_item_2_11
    • That he never comes back!)Guaracha_item_2_12


  • No hay mulata más hermosa.Guaracha_item_3_13
  • más pilla y más sandunguera,Guaracha_item_3_14
  • ni que tenga en la caderaGuaracha_item_3_15
  • más azúcar que mi Rosa.Guaracha_item_3_16


  • Guaracha_item_4_17
    • (There's no mulatta more gorgeous,Guaracha_item_4_18
    • more wicked and more spicy,Guaracha_item_4_19
    • nor one whose hips have gotGuaracha_item_4_20
    • more sugar than my Rosa!)Guaracha_item_4_21

Guaracha in the 20th century Guaracha_section_5

In the mid-20th century the style was taken up by the conjuntos and big bands as a type of up-tempo music. Guaracha_sentence_45

Many of the early trovadores, such as Manuel Corona (who worked in a brothel area of Havana), composed and sung guarachas as a balance for the slower boleros and canciónes. Guaracha_sentence_46

Ñico Saquito was primarily a singer and composer of guarachas. Guaracha_sentence_47

The satirical lyric content also fitted well with the son, and many bands played both genres. Guaracha_sentence_48

Today it seems scarcely to exist as a distinct musical form, except in the hands of trova musicians; in larger groups it has been absorbed into the vast maw of Salsa. Guaracha_sentence_49

Singers who could handle the fast lyrics and were good improvisors were called guaracheros or guaracheras. Guaracha_sentence_50

Celia Cruz was an example, though she, like Miguelito Valdés and Benny Moré, sung almost every type of Cuban lyric well. Guaracha_sentence_51

A better example is Cascarita (Orlando Guerra) who was distinctly less comfortable with boleros, but brilliant with fast numbers. Guaracha_sentence_52

In modern Cuban music so many threads are interwoven that one cannot easily distinguish these older roots. Guaracha_sentence_53

Perhaps in the lyrics of Los Van Van the topicality and sauciness of the old guarachas found new life, though the rhythm would have surprised the old-timers. Guaracha_sentence_54

Among other composers who have written Guarachas is Morton Gould – the piece is found in the third movement of his Latin American Symphonette (Symphonette No. Guaracha_sentence_55

4) (1940). Guaracha_sentence_56

Later in the 1980s Pedro Luis Ferrer and Virulo (Alejandro García Villalón) sought to renovate the guaracha, devising modern takes on the old themes. Guaracha_sentence_57

Guaracha in Puerto Rico Guaracha_section_6

During the 19th century, many Bufo Theater Companies arrived in Puerto Rico from Cuba, and they brought with them the Guaracha. Guaracha_sentence_58

At a later time the Guaracha was adopted in Puerto Rico and became part of the Puerto Rican musical tradition, such as the “Rosarios Cantaos”, the Baquiné, the Christmas songs and the Children’s songs. Guaracha_sentence_59

The Guaracha is a style of song-dance which is also considered music for the Christmas “Parrandas” and concert popular music. Guaracha_sentence_60

Several modern genres, such as Rumba and Salsa are considered to be influenced by the Guaracha. Guaracha_sentence_61

The Guaracha has been cultivated during the 20th century by Puerto Rican musicians such as Rafael Hernández, Pedro Flores, Bobby Capó, Tite Curet, Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, Francisco Alvarado, Luigi Teixidor and “El Gran Combo”. Guaracha_sentence_62

Some famous Guarachas are: Hermoso Bouquet, Pueblo Latino, Borracho no vale, Compay póngase duro, Mujer trigueña, Marinerito and Piel Canela. Guaracha_sentence_63

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