Manuel Vázquez Montalbán said in 1976 in his canonical and early essay on Joan Manuel Serrat that the public potential of the musician from Poble Sec was “immense”. With his great clinical eye as a writer and journalist, Montalbán already knew how to appreciate that Serrat was “above the rest of the singer-songwriters due to his ability to identify with people”, and that he knew how to connect “with the most intimate feelings of the man on the street ”. Almost half a century after those words, when the 77-year-old Catalan singer-songwriter announced that he is saying goodbye to the stage forever, that huge audience has become a homeland. In an intergenerational place that unites listeners of all ages and represents a magnificent conquest for Spanish music.
“Serrat has been a great influence and continues to be”, reflects Luis García Gil, author of the books on the analysis of the musician’s work.. Serrat at the crossroads and Serrat and the poets (both edited by Efe Eme). “He is the great reference among singer-songwriters and above all he is an influence that goes beyond the songwriter. Serrat has influenced pop music, indies, in the field of flamenco, even in rockers, in musicians who are in their antipodes. Perhaps because he was never a typical singer-songwriter but a great lyricist and melodist ”. In the words of Juan Puchades, director of the magazine Efe Eme Notebooks: “From a very young age, he reached unimaginable, unprecedented heights as a lyricist: it is not easy to find references who handle the cult and popular language as he does, it is almost impossible, and in two languages! For that, it is necessary to have read what Serrat has read and analyzed and, of course, have the unique head and sensitivity that he has. Add his brutal melodic capacity and we are facing an exceptional composer. If someone wants to write songs in our language, without a doubt they should study all of Serrat’s work ”.
The Serrat subject has been a constant since he became known in 1965 with his first compositions and renewed with a fresh air what came to be called the new song that platform of pioneers who claimed the use of Catalan in Spanish music. Established as a benchmark for that movement, he surprised and began to sing in Spanish with the album dedicated to Antonio Machado in 1969. In this way he also triumphed beyond the Ebro, so much so that he monopolized magazine covers, starred in movies and made the Americas. With the publication of Mediterranean In 1971 and the subsequent album with poems by Miguel Hernández, Serrat became a first-rate Castilian composer, set the pace on both sides of the Atlantic and innovated not only in a poetic lyric but also managing his own style. “It is necessary to highlight his enormous work as a singer of poets to whom he put music in an unconventional or recitative way. He went further than Paco Ibáñez. He made Machado or Hernández pop lyricists, with all that this had an impact on the young people of the moment ”, García Gil points out.
The shock waves from that impact continue to this day. Serrat has been paid many tributes. He is the living Spanish musician with the most tribute albums. It has two volumes of albums in which artists from other generations sing their songs. Even in his Messy anthology Duets are collected with Joaquín Sabina, Pablo Milanés, Miguel Poveda, Silvia Pérez Cruz, Dulce Pontes, Estopa, Carmen Linares, Alejandro Sanz or Dani Martín. The last tribute was Children of the Mediterranean, a generational tribute album that reviewed Mediterranean from top to bottom with musicians of the panorama indie. “He is a born connoisseur of what a song is,” says Amaro Ferreiro, who coordinated Children of the Mediterranean. Not everyone knows. The rules of the song are quite abstract and unknown and he knows them very well. He knows how to take his songs to the last consequences ”. Xoel López, who participated in that album and decided to switch to singing and composing from English to Spanish, assures that he “pounded a lot” on Serrat’s songs to “learn to build a good song in Spanish”. In the words of Anni B. Sweet, who participated in the recent tribute that the Alhambra Monkey Week festival dedicated in Seville to the 50th anniversary of Mediterranean: “His lyrics totally take you back to the time. It’s very accessible, and then they end up being very specific. I love how it portrays everything. ” Both Anni B. Sweet and Xoel López came to him like so many Spaniards: Serrat’s music was a torch that was passed from father to son. Jairo Zavala, artistically known as Depedro, remembers it well: “He was always there in my life. I have it related to the eternal tape that went around a thousand times in my parents’ car ”. And he sentences: “Whoever doesn’t like Serrat doesn’t have a heart. It’s a giant”.
A giant who has walked a lifetime and now seeks to rest, although his songs, like a path of shells, will continue to lead us to ourselves.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.