In 1969 Joan Manuel Serrat released 2 albums in spite of a ban against his music in his country, did his 1st tour in Latin America, and inspired many young Latin Americans like Juan Rodriguez.
This month the Latin Music Academy of Recording Arts recognizes the legacy the Catalan singer-songwriter has left in Latin music.
1969: a Big Year for Joan Manuel Serrat
At 26, Joan Manuel Serrat was a rising star coming out of Barcelona. He released his 1st recording in 1967. By the next year he had been selected to represent Spain in the prestigious “Festival de Eurovision” at the Royal Theater in London. That’s when things began to change.
Serrat, under pressure from some Catalan sectors, insisted he would sing the selected song for the festival, “La, la, la” in his native catalan, instead of Spanish. This went against the Franco dictatorship preference for Spanish. As a result, Joan Manuel was kicked out as representative for Spain. Additionally, his music was banned from being played or promoted in Spain.
Despite the 1968 setback, Serrat released 2 albums in 1969. He got out the greatly acclaimed “Dedicado a Antonio Machado”, in tribute to the late Spaniard poet. The big hit of the album was “Cantares”, which had the phrase “..caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.” (walker there is no road, you make the road while walking).
The other album was “Paloma”, and it contained the mega hit “Tu Nombre me Sabe a Yerba”. The popularity of this music was mostly in Latin America. There he became a household star while still banned in Spain.
On the heals of these hits, Joan Manuel Serrat embarks in a tour through several countries in Latin America, including Puerto Rico. His concert at the University of Puerto Rico left shocking waves in the music scene of the island.
Serrat Inspires a Generation of Latinos
Juan Rodriguez (fictitious character) was one of those who attended the University of Puerto Rico concert. Like many others of his generation, he was fascinated by the poetic “Nueva Cancion” music of the Catalan singer-songwriter.
Juan loved The Beattles, Elvis, and El Gran Combo. He was also a fan of the “Nueva Cancion” movement that was gaining popularity as music of love. But not just the “love and peace” of the hippies. This was love in a greater sense. Love for women, as well as love for country, and love for freedom. All the things Mercedes Sosa and Violeta Parra had been singing about.
Joan Mauel Serrat was not only an educated artist, he was a rebel with a cause. He defied the dictatorship of Franco by preferring to sing in his native tongue. What could be wrong with that? Any college freshman like Juan Rodriguez easily related to that cause!
That is how Joan Manuel Serrat made a mark in Latin music and a generation of Latinos. He had the right message, delivered the right way, at the right time!
Honored by LARAS at the Latin Grammy Awards
Like any Juan Rodriguez out there, I’m very glad Joan Manuel Serrat was selected this year as the artist to be honored for his contributions to Latin music. Serrat is approaching his 50th anniversary in music, and what better way to celebrate such a milestone than receiving this recognition!
Personal note: I wake up every day to the sound of Joan Manuel Serrat’s “Hoy Puede Ser un Gran Día”, and I use the version performed by Cuban group “La Familia” recorded in the album “Cuba le Canta a Serrat” (2005).