The song was one of Compay's last compositions and was written in 1987. "Chan Chan" had already been recorded by the composer himself various times, but worldwide success came with a version with Compay and other Cuban artistsEliades Ochoa and Ibrahim Ferrer as the first song on the album Buena Vista Social Club.
Compay Segundo textual cite:
I didn't compose Chan Chan, I dreamt it. I dream of music. I sometimes wake up with a melody in my head, I hear the instruments, all very clear. I look over the balcony and I see nobody, but I hear it as if it was played on the street. I don't know what it can be. One day I woke up hearing those four sensitive notes, I gave them a lyric inspired by a children's tale from my childhood, Juanica y Chan Chan, and you see, now it's sung everywhere.
The most complete explanation says: 'The song relates the story of a man and a woman (Chan Chan and Juanica) who are building a house, and go to the beach to get some sand. Chan Chan collects the sand and puts it on the jibe (a sieve for sand). Juanica shakes it, and to do so she shakes herself, making Chan Chan aroused. [...] The origin of this tale is a farmer song learnt by Compay Segundo when he was twelve years old.'
There is a repeated motif throughout the song:
De Alto Cedro voy para Marcané
Llego a Cueto voy para Mayarí
From Alto Cedro I go towards Marcané
I get to Cueto, head for Mayarí