Todo en la vida es como una canción, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, sang Massiel just over 40 years ago and with those words she stole the Eurovision Song Contest from Cliff Richard. When I came to Spain as a student not long after her success I discovered that originally Joan Manuel Serrat was going to sing that song. Unfortunately he was insisting on singing it in Catalán, a forbidden language in Franco’s Spain. Consequently he was replaced as Spain’s representative in the competition. Apparently his works were banned and his records burned on the streets of Spain. He was also criticised later by Catalán nationalists for singing in Castellano. It seems as though you can’t win.
And now I’ve just bought Joan Manuel Serrat’s latest album, Hijo de la Luz y de la Sombra. I could have downloaded it free from the website of the newspaper El País but if I start downloading music I’ll have even more problems with my mobile internet connection. So I went out and bought it in the old-fashioned way and got a DVD as well as the CD as part of the package.
This latest album is a collection of poems by Miguel Hernández, set to music by Joan Manuel Serrat. The poet Miguel Hernández was active in the republican party during Spain’s Civil War. He was arrested at the end of the Civil War and died of tuberculosis in 1942 in one of Franco’s prisons, apparently writing his poetry on the walls of his cell to the end. The album has been released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his birth. There were reports of the anniversary in the news and interviews with Joan Manuel Serrat about the making of the album and the selection of the poems. Miguel Hernández is not the first poet Serrat has sung. He is also well known for setting the works of the poet Machado to music.
I tried to think of a parallel situation in the UK, imagining Tom Jones or Cliff Richard singing the poetry of Sassoon or Wilfred Owen. Somehow it didn’t work. We just don’t do that kind of celebrating culture and heritage publicly very often. The nearest I could get was Carla Bruni (yes, Madame Sarkozy, I know, but I did appreciate her songs before she became the first lady of France!) setting the poems of Yeats, Auden and others to music. From an Italian family originally, married to the President of France, good grief, she’s not even a British singer!!!