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  • oliver delgado

On Serrat

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Watching a tv show, I hear the host asking an artist, “If you were left on an island and you were to chose a cd to listen to, which one would you chose?". The person replied, “a Joan Manuel Serrat’s one”. After thinking about this question, I realized that I would have answer exactly the same. I am sure there must be thousands of people in the hispanic world that would have answered as the person interviewed.

Joan Manuel Serrat is a Catalan singer, songwriter who sings in both Catalan and Spanish. He is now and his seventies. He became famous among other things for refusing to sign a song in Spanish language a song he had wanted to sing in Catalan for the Euro Festival. From that moment on, Serrat gained so much respect in his country not only for his merits as a composer, but also for his unique character, and integrity as an artist. Contrary to what it might appear Serrat has never been an artist poised by the nationalistic ideas so prevailing in his natal Cataluna. It would only require to listen to a few of his songs both in Spanish or Catalan to conclude that for Serrat ethnic and cultural differences are only limbs of a body called Spain. Serrat is Spanish but above all universal. I was lucky to have come across his lyrics in the awakening years of my adolescence. His lyrics became an immediate reference on love, erotism, identity and society. Songs filled with sensibility and the folklore of the Hispanic world. I could not help see resemblances between scenes and characters of my town reflected in songs like “La Fiesta”, “La Mujer que yo Quiero”, “Penelope”and many others with aspects of my own town. Serrat’s melodies are a mixture of Flamenco, Boleros, ballads, Jazz and Latin rhythms, another signed of his universality. As most of the great poets, Serrat’s voice alludes a wide repertoire of subject matter and scenes borrowed from his profound knowledge of the Mediterranean life, and love, at times borrowing from poets such as Machado, Miguel Hernandez, or Benedetti. His music transcends the poetic and lyrical even reaching the qualities of historical document of spanish life touching upon subjects like peasantry in songs like 'Campesina', migration in 'Juan y Jose’, the Iberian Peninsula in 'Mil anos hace’. He sings about death, age, love or the vices of the capitalist society on 'El Sur tambien existe' not in a moralistic approach but rather from a trustful portrait of our times. Finally, I don’t remember many singers whose lyrics not only deal with the abstract but also the concrete so beautifully, singing to a dog in 'Mala Sangre', a tree in 'un Olmo Seco' a paper Boat in 'Barquito de Papel', or a decaying theatre in 'Los fantasmas del Roxi' to tell us a story, a metaphor or simple to remind us of their existence and the importance to preserve them. Serrat, as most of the great artist in history, is capable making the abstract legible and to transform the banal into beauty, all of that framed within the melodic sounds of his music.

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