Joan Manuel Serrat

Most of the music post are about more American or English-speaking artists. Today, even if I write it English the artist is Joan Manuel Serrat. I fell in love with his ability to write beautiful poems, but added he could add to it beautiful music. He is part of what was called “La nueva trova”. He is contemporary with other great poets like Alberto Cortés, Silvio Rodríguez and others, but for me he is the one with the ability to write different music and better lyrics. Serrat has been abla to successfully released albums both in Spanish and Catalán, the language of the side of Spain he was born and raised. I have the opportunity to see him in concert a few times and I always enjoy his performances.

He was born December 27th, 1943. He started his music career with the EP “Una Guitarra”. Including songs from that EP, he released his first album “Ara que tinc vint Anys” (Now that I have 20 years) in 1967. It is safe to say that this album is very acoustic with simple arrangements and that his style would change quickly. It is a good album that has songs like “La Tieta”, that is a moving a song about an Aunt who never had kids and never married and sadly dies alone, the performance is perfectly delivered by Serrat. His next album was an album of traditional songs in Catalán.

His second album of original materials was released in 1969 and was called Com Ho fa el Vent. This was a big improvement from his first album and it is one of my favorites. Although this particular song got a more beautiful arrangement in later live performance, this album includes the beautiful song “Paraules D’Amor”, a song about that first love that faded away, that was the song that got me to go deeper into his albums in catalán. The album is great from start to finish. This album also includes “Canco de matinada”, “L’Olivera”.

In 1969 Serrat, critized by the catalán artist, he decided to record a spanish album. I think what makes him unique is that he followed his own path and did what he believed in. Just a few years back he refused to sing in a Eurovision song contest representing Spain because he could not sing in Catalán because dictator Franco who repressed the language. Even with the controversy he released “La Paloma”. This was the first album I heard and it was the song “Poco antes de que den las 10” that got me to keep listening to other albums. Though not included in the album originally, the song Penelope was released this year and it was a big hit for Serrat. It is a song so epic in its combination of the music and the lyrics. 

I think his international acclaim began with his next album, a collection of songs of poems by Antonio Machado that Serrat added to music except two songs that the music was written by Alberto Cortés. This album features the song “Cantares” a song that is always present in his live performances. Antonio Machado was a Spanish poet and a leading figure in the literary movement known as Generation of 98 (Wikipedia, 2019). 

In 1970 he released two albums, one is known as Mi Niñez and the other as Serrat IV. Mi Niñez was his third Spanish album and it continued to show Serrat’s ability to write beautiful music to poetry. The title song is about his childhood and it is a very emotional song that ends with the question of where was his childhood, a question that many sometimes can ask ourselves as we look back at our own childhood’s. One of the most beautiful songs on the album is “Cuando me vaya”, a song that so poetically explains the breakup of a relationship. Other highlights on this album are the songs Fiesta, Amigo Mío and Señora. 

Serrat IV is a very different album from the other one released on 1970. I always believed the music for his catalán songs were more complex or more exciting. This album starts with the joyful 20 de marc, a song about missing the first day of spring because he was asleep. “Conillet de vellut” is a song about a man who has a girlfriend that is a model and he is conflicted as she enters into that world and cheats on him. The song is so funny as he explains how that modeling world is taking her away. The short but sweet Bon Dia as he just wishes a good day to everyone. This a fine album with great songs. 

Based on opinions that I have heard or read, there is a debate between the album Sombras de la China and the album Mediterráneo as to which one is his masterpiece. For me there is no debate, released in 1971, Mediterráneo is a flawless album and his best of all the Spanish albums he made because his next album following this one is for me his absolute best. From start to finish the songs are great. Starting with the title song a tribute song to the Mediterranean Sea. “Aquellas pequeñas cosas” is short and to the point, but so beautiful as he says that the most beautiful things in life are those small details that live in our memories and hearts. 

1973 he released what is in my opinion his best album of all no matter the language he used. Per al meu amic, released after the album he made of poems by Miguel Hernández, is simply a great album. The music in this album is complex and different. Helena is his masterpiece in terms of songs, it starts with a slow tempo as he explains the emptiness of a man who lost his love and then picks up the tempo as he describes Helena, the girl he misses. There is a song where he prays for the sake of planet earth and the same the musical arrangement fits perfectly with the lyrics. 

The 1970’s he also released the albums Cancion Infantil and two albums he released while on exile from Spain, Para Piel de manzana and 1978. Those are two albums that I rarely hear him perform songs from them though they are both beautiful albums with great songs on it. 

For many he continued to release great albums and tour around the world. Albums like “En transito”, “Cada loco con su tema”, Material Sensible are very good albums. But it is safe to say that during that time he released albums that were not great compared to his work in the ’70s, not meaning that they were bad albums, just that each seemed to have songs that were not as good as others. Albums like Bienaventurados and Nadie is perfecto had songs that I just did not fall in love with. But in 1998, he came back with an album that is considered one of his best, Sombras de la China. That felt more like an complete album and features many great songs like “Me gusta todo de ti”, “Una vieja cancion” and “Donde quiere que estés”. 

To this day he continues to perform around the world and he is regarded as one of the most important artists of Latin America and deservingly so. He has the ability to not use a similar music style like his contemporaries, and he has a sensibility to the songs he writes. 

His last album of new songs came with the album was Orquesta del Titanic with Joaquin Sabina, an album that was good but made in the style of Sabina I did not love all the songs, but it did have great songs. It is yet to see if he releases any new album of new materials, but as far as his legacy he does not need to, he has a body of work few can achieve. 

Wikipedia. (2019). Antonio Machado. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Machado

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