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Origins: Guabe, Guabe / Guabi Guabi

DigiTrad:
GUABI GUABI


Related thread:
Lyr Req: Gwaby Gwaby / Guabi Guabi (2) (closed)


Barbara Shaw 16 Feb 98 - 09:54 AM
Ralph Butts 16 Feb 98 - 12:03 PM
Terry Kelleher 16 Feb 98 - 12:16 PM
Barbara 16 Feb 98 - 02:25 PM
Art Thieme 16 Feb 98 - 04:57 PM
Joe Offer 17 Feb 98 - 03:09 AM
Art Thieme 17 Feb 98 - 10:29 AM
Art Thieme 17 Feb 98 - 10:32 AM
Susan of DT 17 Feb 98 - 08:49 PM
Barbara Shaw 11 Mar 98 - 09:09 AM
Art Thieme 11 Mar 98 - 10:15 AM
Barbara Shaw 11 Mar 98 - 11:33 AM
dick greenhaus 11 Mar 98 - 01:19 PM
Will 11 Mar 98 - 04:52 PM
Art Thieme 12 Mar 98 - 12:44 AM
MarkS 11 Jun 00 - 11:15 PM
MikeofNorthumbria 12 Jun 00 - 10:50 AM
MarkS 12 Jun 00 - 07:11 PM
Art Thieme 17 Oct 00 - 09:20 PM
Uncle_DaveO 07 Nov 01 - 11:40 AM
masato sakurai 07 Nov 01 - 12:19 PM
GUEST,Tiger 07 Nov 01 - 03:16 PM
Art Thieme 07 Nov 01 - 09:50 PM
Cool Beans 19 Oct 11 - 08:21 AM
BK Lick 19 Oct 11 - 11:46 PM
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Subject: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 16 Feb 98 - 09:54 AM

Does anyone know the lyrics to a Jim Kweskin tune called (maybe) Guabe, Guabe? It is in some foreign language, maybe Swahili, and has a very catchy tune. Only know two lines (phonetically) and would like the song a little longer!


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Ralph Butts
Date: 16 Feb 98 - 12:03 PM

Hi, Barbara....

It's Guabi, Guabi. I have it on an old tape. I've always played it just as an instrumental because the guitar work is so great (not that I could match it) and the language is foreign.

I'll see if I can figure out the words or, perhaps you would like a tape copy.

.....Tiger


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Terry Kelleher
Date: 16 Feb 98 - 12:16 PM

Look in the archive here, for "Guabi Guabi", as recorded by Arlo Guthrie.


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Barbara
Date: 16 Feb 98 - 02:25 PM

Thanks, folks! This mudcat group is incredible. And the song was right on the database all along...


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Art Thieme
Date: 16 Feb 98 - 04:57 PM

I do (did) Guabi Guabi as a vehicle for jokes that I tell between verses supposedly as a "loose" translation of the lyric. It's on my "Live At Winfield, Ks." cassette but it's now out of print. Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 17 Feb 98 - 03:09 AM

Well, Art, I hope you realize that you have literally tens of fans here who would love to own an Art Theime CD or two. I suppose that isn't enough of a market to make reissues worthwhile, eh?
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Feb 98 - 10:29 AM

Joe, thanks for the nice words. Right now am puttin together a CD from old (good though) tapes from when I could still pick. Some title possibilities (The Older I Get The Better I Was) but John McCutcheon told me in Memphis he's just written a song with that title. Strange coincidence. (Another working title is THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY GET DIFFERENT). Feels too cumbersome though.Thanks again, Art


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Feb 98 - 10:32 AM

Forgot to mention: Ramblin' Jack Elliott did it before Kweskin I'm pretty sure. He got it from an African 78 rpm record.Art


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Susan of DT
Date: 17 Feb 98 - 08:49 PM

At least one of Art's recordings are still available from Folk Legacy (www.folklegacy.com). But a new recording would be great!


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 11 Mar 98 - 09:09 AM

Does anyone have an English translation?


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Art Thieme
Date: 11 Mar 98 - 10:15 AM

To me these were just corrupted nonsense lyrics; impossible to get a translation 'cause it wasn't accurate in the first place. BUT I seem to remember something in SING OUT about this a while ago.


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 11 Mar 98 - 11:33 AM

Thanks, Art. After I posted the question, I found a web site that has a write-up about the song:

http://www.arlo.net/lyrics/guabi-guabi.shtml


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 11 Mar 98 - 01:19 PM

Didn't that first hit the scene in an African revue called Wait a Minim?


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Will
Date: 11 Mar 98 - 04:52 PM

Art, how about "I used to be great (but now I'm better)" for a title?


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Subject: RE: Guabe, Guabe (maybe)
From: Art Thieme
Date: 12 Mar 98 - 12:44 AM

Working title for the CD is now WAY DOWN THE ROAD---after the lead song, a fine one by Craig Johnson!


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Subject: RE: Joshua Gone Barbados
From: MarkS
Date: 11 Jun 00 - 11:15 PM

For "Guabe Guabe," look in an older Jack Elliot album. I will look it up next time I head to the basement and post. Dont know the meaning, but the song is on there.


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Subject: RE: Joshua Gone Barbados
From: MikeofNorthumbria
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 10:50 AM

Guabi Guabi can be found on a field recording collected by Hugh Tracy in the mid 1950s. It was released on a Decca 10" LP called Guitars of Africa. I don't know if there have been any re-issues since. Jack Elliot and several other folkies used to play this tune in the '60s. A version of it was printed in Sing Out magazine round about then.

According to the sleeve notes on the Tracy recording, the singer (and presumably composer) was George Sibanda, who came from the country now known as Zambia, but once called Northern Rhodesia. The song is based on a children's game - one child hides something behind his/her back and invites the other child to guess what it is (apparently "Guabi" means "Guess").

The lyrics, more or less phonetically transcribed, go like this:

Guabi guabi guzwange, lay tombyami

Laleng kambi, shu yantanda (2x)

Nizabu tengi, la ma banzi,

Izu wiji, lay banana! (2x)

Any Swahili speakers out there who can give a translation (and correct my spelling)?

Besides being a pretty little song, "Guabi Guabi" also features a nice bit of guitar-picking. And on the same "Guitars of Africa" disk, there are two stunning pieces by the famous Zairian guitarist, Jean Bosco Mwenda - one of them, "Masanga", was also transcribed in Sing Out in the 1960s. Some of his stuff has been reissued on CD - well worth seeking, though I don't know where you'd find it.


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Subject: RE: Joshua Gone Barbados
From: MarkS
Date: 12 Jun 00 - 07:11 PM

Found it!
Jack Elliot did Guabi Guabi on the "Jack Elliot" album issued by Vanguard, VRS 9151.
An interesting album, with background music from Eric Darling, John Hammond, and, on the Guabi Guabi track, guitar from Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker on beads.


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Subject: RE: Joshua Gone Barbados
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Oct 00 - 09:20 PM

My "Guabi Guabi" was used by me as an excuse to add humor to the sad ballads I was so fond of. I'd sing a verse of "Guabi" and then say, "I'll translate it."

Then I'd tell some joke or pun or whatever. Then I'd do "another verse"---and 'translate' that one. Then another maybe---depending on how the audience responded to stuff.

One incarnation of what I did with it is on my recording called Art Thieme--LIVE ST WINFIELD, KANSAS. But I never did do it the same twice.


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Subject: Translation? Guabi Guabi
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 07 Nov 01 - 11:40 AM

I've really been enjoying Ramblin' Jack Elliott's rendition of Guabi Guabi, which I understand from the DT is South African. But does anybody have even a rough translation? I'd be fascinated to know what it means.

DAve Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Translation? Guabi Guabi
From: masato sakurai
Date: 07 Nov 01 - 12:19 PM

There's a detailed explanation HERE.
~Masato
GUABI GUABI REVEALED!


Many is the time that I've heard the question, "Just what the hell does 'Guabi Guabi' mean?!". So, it's about time there was a definative place to get the answer. You have found that place. Here it is in all it's glory...all the information that I could find. I hope it answers all your questions and you will be able to sleep soundly once more. If you know of somthing that isn't mentioned here, please send feedback!


The Lyrics

Adapted by Arlo Guthrie
(as it appears on Amigo)

Guabi Guabi kuzwan le toum diome
Ize les gambi shooey entana
Guabi Guabi kuzwan le toum diome
Ize les gambi shooey entana

Ni izome tingy la ma bonza
Ize widgy le ba na na

Ni izome tingy la ma bonza
Ize widgy le ba na na


Arlo's Explanations

Arlo and Pete recorded a video at Wolftrap (in Vienna, VA) in 1978 which was aired on local PBS stations. The following is close to what Arlo said to explain the song:

"The thought was just striking me at that moment that there's probably some people that don't understand Zulu. And you know, a song of this importance should be understood, like all folksongs.

Now, this is a story about a guy named Guabi Guabi. He was an African dude. His friends called him Guabs, but most of the time, in a formal situation, they called him Guabi Guabi. He used to work at the docks down there in South Africa.

One day he was arrested for cuttin' sandals out of tires. He cut some sandals out of the tires down there at the dock and they brought him up to the police station--about 13 stories up in the air. The next day they found Guabi had somehow got out the window and died and ended up down the road about three miles.

People started wantin' to know--they started a little investigation and they asked the police about it. They said that Guabi had slipped accidentally on a banana peel inside the police station and actually slipped right out the window. And when asked how come he was found three miles down the road, they said he had cut them sandals out of steel belted radial tires.

So people didn't know what to do about that. They started another kind of investigation--it went so far as to even come over here kind of. The truth eventually came out, I think, and that was--you see they was chasin' Guabi around the police station when one of his sandals blew up. It was a Firestone 500. And so his friends wrote this song about him. It's kind of a difficult song to--you know-- a lot gets lost in the translation, but I'm sure you know what I mean. And they wrote this song knowin' I would sing it, you know, and that you would know what I meant.

And it goes like this:

Don't worry Guabi, you ain't gonna die in vain;
Over in America they'll be singing songs about this.
They'll start all kinds of investigations into sending these tires over here.
They'll start checkin' out the police.
They'll start checkin' out all kinds of stuff,
So just take it easy."

Another Arlo Explanation

This one seems to be an earlier translation than the last one from Arlo:

It seems there was this guy named Guabi Guabi, he was so poor that he didn't have 2 names. His friends just called him Guabs. Anyway he was in love with this beautiful girl named Tonna.

One day he was walking across this rope bridge and she was walking the other way to meet him in the middle. He was holding something behind his back so she couldn't see it. It was just a bunch of bannas.

He was so poor he couldn't buy anything for her, so he just climbed a tree and cut them down, that's like why he was so tired but that's another story better get back lets see where was I...when all of sudden a banana slipped under his foot and he slipped off the rope bridge and fell 300 feet down to the river.

When the cops got there, they weren't far away 'cause he was some kind of folk singer or something, they asked what happened. One of Guabs friends who was watching the whole thing sort of wrote this down and we are still singing it to this very day...what you don't believe me? No, it's true...I don't you know make this stuff up...can you dig it?

Now that you know the truth you can sing it with me...It goes Guabi, Guabi then there are other words...........


The Truth of It All

Guabi, Guabi: a South African folk song tremendously popular with folkies in the 60s and 70s, thanks to the recordings of Jack Elliott(1), Jim Kweskin, and Arlo Guthrie. It's a Zulu children's song with a wonderful melody and addictive guitar fingerpicking, and was taken from the singing and playing of guitarist George Sibanda(2). It can be found on an album put out by Decca called Guitars of Africa.

The song is about someone who teases his girlfriend by holding something behind his back and saying, "Guess what I've got." It's an interesting mix of Zulu and French expressions, and this English transliteration and translation is from Andrew Tracy of the African Music Society thanks to the guitar tutorials of Happy Traum (who put out a book with the tablature for Guabi Guabi):

"Guabi, Guabi, guzwangle notamb yami,
(Hear, Guabi, Guabi, I have a girlfriend)

Ihlale nkamben', shu'ngyamtanda

(She lives at Nkamben, sure I love her)

Ngizamtenge la mabanzi, iziwichi le banana."
(I will buy her buns, sweets, and bananas.)

If you've never heard the song sung before, the above is miles away from the actual sound of the African language. Such is the transliteration and its shortcomings.

Good luck with pronouncing the transliteration if you don't have a recording. As for the chords, it's straight C, F, and G. The fingerpicking takes a little more...

One other possibility-write to the Int'l Library Of African Music at Grahamstown,SA (Andrew Tracey) for more on his, and his dad's remarkable work. Their albums, obviously, fueled many-a-crafty folkie, besides doing their intended work...

(1) Jack recorded "Gaubi Guabi" on a 1964 LP called JACK ELLIOTT (Vanguard). That LP has been combined with a live recording from that era and released on a single CD as THE ESSENTIAL RAMBLIN' JACK ELLIOTT (Vanguard).

(2) George Sibanda was an Ndebele guitarist who recorded for the Gallotone label (78rpm) in about 1950; a discovery of Hugh Tracey, eminent saviour of trad. African music. For a time he was funded, in part, by this commercial concern, acting as a "talent scout" for potential "hit" material (as was the case here) in exchange for the ability to document more traditional styles. The record gained some prominence in Europe, being reissued in a series of 10" discs on London(1950s); the series re-shuffled & augmented on 12" Gallotone lps (1960s-S. Africa) and in the early 1970s re-reissued on Kaleidoscope (NYC) -all under the editorial imprimatur of Dr.Tracey. Sibanda was (is???) a lovely guitarist and had many successes in his early days.


The Credits

Many thanks to the following for providing this info:

Carole Stein, Dan Rottenberk, Bill Markwick, Erik Olsen, Mike Regenstreif

Information copy-pasted from the source cited in Masato's link. -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Translation? Guabi Guabi
From: GUEST,Tiger
Date: 07 Nov 01 - 03:16 PM

A great page, Masato.

And, a great song by Kweskin's Jug Band, for which I'd LOVE to have the guitar tablature.

Anybody?


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Subject: RE: Translation? Guabi Guabi
From: Art Thieme
Date: 07 Nov 01 - 09:50 PM

Each verse is different. The first verse, loosely translated, tells about a time my uncle and I were caught in a deluge -- a rain storm like no other I'd ever been in. The firm ground turned to mud that was knee deep. Every time we took a step we fell back three steps. It was terrible. I yelled to uncle over the howling wind, "What can we do to get home??" Well, he knew exactly the right thing. (I knew he would.) We both turned around and went in the opposite direction. We got home three times faster than we ever had before. A great lesson was learned by me that day. (What goes around, comes around.)

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Origins: Guabe, Guabe / Guabi Guabi
From: Cool Beans
Date: 19 Oct 11 - 08:21 AM

No, this is great. I, too, recorded Guabi Guabi, and love playing it. Now I know its true origins.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Guabe, Guabe / Guabi Guabi
From: BK Lick
Date: 19 Oct 11 - 11:46 PM

You can watch Art sing Guabi Guabi on this video Paul Goelz recorded
at the No Exit in 1982. Art writes about that evening here.


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