Traditional folkloric genre of Spanish origin. The island’s country people, known as guajiros in Cuba, have cultivated their distinctive rural folk music since the late 18th century. Accompanied by instruments such as the tres (small Cuban guitar), the laúd (typical Cuban mandolin), güiro (ridged gourd), and claves (two hardwood cylinders), the vocalist sings improvised décimas (ten-line rhymed verses) following a constant, simple melodic pattern known interchangeably as the punto criollo, punto guajiro, or, now internationally, as the punto cubano. There is also another distinct variety or sub-genre, the guajira, as well as regional and local variations of the punto criollo. Traditionally, the best singers would engage in controversias, or versifying competitions, at countryside gatherings. Guajiro music contributed a great deal to the formation of another Cuban genre, the son, particularly its improvisational nature.
The puntos criollos and guajiras were sung during the traditional rural dance brought from Spain by early colonists, the zapateo. In the zapateo, the man gracefully dances in a circle around the woman while she turns in place with coquettish gestures of her own. Both stamp their toes and heels in a lively manner.
Guillermo Portabales (1914-1961), a bolero singer, popularized country genres with his refined, urbane renditions termed guajiras de salón. Singer-songwriter Celina González (b. 1928), known as the “Queen of Cuban Country Music,” has been a leading performer of guajiro genres, first with husband Reutilio Domínguez and later with their son Lázaro Reutilio Domínguez, since the 1950s. The guajira-son Guantanamera, first adapted and interpreted by Joseíto Fernández (1908-1979) in 1928, and later rearranged with lyrics from the poetry of José Martí by classical composer Julián Orbón, became the best-known work in the genre. American folksinger Pete Seeger adopted and played the song to U.S. audiences in 1963. Albita Rodríguez (b. 1962) introduced a modern, neo – guajiro style in the 1990s with the international success of her U.S. debut album, No se parece a nada.