Joan Manuel Serrat (born 27 December 1943) is considered one of the most important singer-songwriters of modern, popular music in both the Spanish and Catalan languages. He became involved with music at the age of 17, when he got his first guitar, to which he dedicates one of his earliest songs, “Una guitarra.”
He recorded his first LP in 1967 called “Ara que tinc vint anys”. In 1968, Spain entered Serrat in the Eurovision Song Contest 1968 to sing “La, la, la”, but he asked to sing it in Catalan, to which the Spanish authorities would not agree. This would be the first time he would come into conflict with the language politics of Francoist Spain, because of his decision to sing in his native Catalan language, repressed by Dictator Francisco Franco. Defiantly, Serrat refused to sing the Spanish-language version and was hurriedly replaced by Massiel, who went on to win the contest with her Spanish-language interpretation. As a result, Serrat’s songs were banned and his records burned in the streets.
In 1969, Serrat released an album containing songs with texts of Antonio Machado, a well known Spanish poet of late 19th-early 20th century. This album brought him immediate fame in all Spain and Latin America though, in spite of this, his decision to sing in Spanish was still criticized in some nationalistic Catalan circles. Regarding this and other times when his choice of language (sometimes Spanish, sometimes Catalan) raised controversy on either side of the political sphere, he once explained: “I sing better in the language they forbid me.”
In late 1974, Serrat was exiled in Mexico due to his condemnation of arbitrary executions under Franco’s regime. It wasn’t until Franco’s death November 20, 1975 that Serrat was able to return to his homeland. In 1976, he was acclaimed for the first time in the U.S.A., while performing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. In January 1995, the Spanish government awarded him a medal for his contribution to Hispanic culture. His signature song “Mediterráneo” was selected as the most important song of the 20th century in Spain.