Just got back from strolling around my neighborhood while listening to Buena Vista Social Club. In my khaki pencil skirt and shabby ballet flats and slouchy shoulder bag, I tried to pretend that I was in Old Havana on my way to La Bodeguita del Medio--and not climbing the hills of suburban Portland!
The Buena Vista Social Club track "Pueblo Nuevo" is a piano-based instrumental in which the soloists interpolate bits of other songs--the melody of "Stormy Weather" played over the chord pattern to "Guantanamera." And this made me think of another strange musical connection involving the world's favorite Cuban song: the chorus of "Guantanamera" has the same chord progression as "Summer Nights" from Grease.
Let me explain. When I was in high school I went to Cuba with a school group (yes, it was legal), and when you're a tourist in Cuba, you hear "Guantanamera" everywhere. We took a boat trip up a river and our boat came complete with three musicians singing and playing "Guantanamera." And a few summers earlier, at musical theater camp, I had performed "Summer Nights," so I was pretty familiar with its chords and melody...and after hearing "Guantanamera" for the twentieth time, something just clicked. Try humming it: "Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera" and then "Summer lovin', had me a blast."
I just did a little research and found out that this is a very simple chord progression, I-IV-V-IV, common to both classic rock and Afro-Cuban/salsa music. It is also used in the songs "Wild Thing" (which we sung in my sixth-grade rock musical version of "Beauty and the Beast") and "Louie Louie" (Portland's favorite rock song). Can you hear the similarities?
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