Four Afro Cuban Poems

for mezzo-soprano and string quartet

Odaline de la Martinez

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for mezzo-soprano and string quartet

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Composer Odaline de la Martinez
Year of Composition 2021
Duration ca.12'
Instrumentation Viola, Mezzo Soprano, 2 Violins, Violoncello
Categories (all composers) , , , ,
Catalogue ID ce-odlm1facp1


Four Afro Cuban Poems is based on four poems taken from Nicolas Guillen’s Motivos de Son (1930.) The work was strongly influenced by his meeting that year with the African American poet Langston Hughes.

Motivos de son mirrors the speech, music and highly rhythmic Afro Cuban language. Most of the poems are about the relationships between a man and a woman.

Búcate Plata is sassy and with attitude. A woman tells her lover to go find some money, so she can eat because she’s down to rice and crackers. She knows things are not good, but if they don’t get better, she’s leaving. Her man has new shoes and a beautiful watch. No way!

Tú No Sabe Inglé A woman teases and tells Victor Manuel to stop boasting about his English because he doesn’t even know how to say “yes”. An American woman is looking for him, but he must get away because his English is down to strike one, two, three. She warns him not to fall in love with her because he doesn’t speak English.

Sigue Is a short poem where a man warns another to keep walking, not to stop and talk to a certain woman. She’s no good, no good.

Mi Chiquita Mi Chiquita means my little woman. It’s joyful and looks at the Afro Cuban Culture from a 1930s-man point of view.

My little woman is so wonderful I wouldn’t trade her for another one. She does the laundry, irons, sews and How she cooks!! When they invite her to dance or to dinner, she always comes to get me. She calls me Mi Santo (my saint)” I’ll never leave you, she says. Come and get me so we can pleasure each other”.

Nicolás Guillén (10 July 1903 – 17 July 1989) was a Cuban poet, journalist, political activist, and writer. He is best remembered as the national poet of Cuba.

Born in Camagüey, he studied law at the University of Havana, but abandoned a legal career working as both a typographer and journalist. His poetry was published in various magazines from the early 1920s, when Afro-Cuban sounds and instruments were changing the world of Cuban music and Afro-Cuban culture began to be expressed in art and literature as well. Guillén is probably the best-known representative of the “poesía negra” (“black poetry”), which tried to create a synthesis between black and white cultural elements. It was not until the 1930s that Guillén’s poetry was acknowledged by many critics as the most influential of those Latin American poets who dealt with African themes and re-created African song and dance rhythms in literary form. He would express in literary terms a personal account of the struggles, dreams, and mannerisms of Afro-Cubans.

Guillen made his mark internationally with the publication of his first collection Motivos de son (1930). It was inspired by the living conditions of Afro-Cubans and the popular son music, drawing from son music in his poetry. The work consists of eight short poems using the everyday language of the Afro Cubans. The collection stood out in the literary world because it emphasized and established the importance of Afro-Cuban culture as a valid genre in Cuban literature.