A YEAR IN MUSIC: JOAN MANUEL SERRAT-Cançons tradicionals (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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With this record, context is king: In 1968 the Spanish singer Massiel beat Cliff Richard in London (by one point) and won the Eurovision song contest with a song called La La La (typical thought-provoking lyrics, obviously). Serrat was supposed to sing it, but demanded to sing it in Catalan, rather than Spanish. El Généralissimo Franco did not agree, so Massiel was sent instead. This was Serrats first political fight with the regime. Later he was exiled in Mexico, in 1974, after he protested against arbitrary executions, only to return after Franco’s death.

So you can imagine the political meaning of releasing a record called Cançons Tradicionals (traditional songs, sung in Catalan) in 1968 and this weighs heavily on the curious listener. The instrumentation is sparse, mostly just consisting of piano and string quartet, and Serrat sounds like Leonard Cohen in an especially religious mood, with some added echo. Solemn, serious, not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it recalls Islands by King Crimson, with a different singer. Only El Ball de la Civada sounds happier, with added percussion and horns.

Because Spain was more or less closed until the early 60’s (when some tourism was allowed, to get foreign currency), the album sounds quite unlike most albums of 1968. It’s also way more serious than other albums by Serrat, who sometimes moved dangerously closed to Julio Iglesias in later years (well, that’s too harsh…), but it’s a great start. After this get Dedicado a Antonio Machado.

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