Friday, July 22, 2011


Song Title: "Kubala"
Artist: Joan Manuel Serrat
Search Term: "Sensible" [This is from an album entitled Material Sensible]

In my high school Spanish class many years ago, we were each assigned to find and cut out a newspaper article regarding events in a Spanish-speaking country. Since the Detroit News does not boast a Caracas bureau, however, my teacher's attempt at filling the following day's session with a discussion of assorted news stories was thwarted when nearly everyone independently brought in the only article regarding a Spanish-speaking nation to appear in that day's edition. It was a wire report about Ecuadorian president Abdala Bucaram being ousted after less than six months in office, on trumped-up charges of mental instability. The reason this sticks with me is that the article noted offhandedly that Bucaram had recently released an album called A Crazy Man in Love, which made me giggle stupidly. I never bothered to locate any of the songs from Bucaram's album because I figured they could not possibly live up to the music I imagined: The sounds of an amateur singer doddering soulfully about his pet obsessions over a thin karaoke background. Wesley Willis and Eilert Pilarm rolled into one.

I giggled stupidly again today upon hearing Joan Manuel Serrat's "Kubala," which sounded exactly as I always fantasized Bucaram's album would sound. Now, Serrat is no outsider artist and his music is no mere vanity project. He is, I gather, hugely important in his native Spain, both for his political outspokenness (he made an enemy of Francisco Franco in the '70s and was exiled to Mexico until Franco's death) and for his contributions to Spanish music, particularly in the Catalan language. So I'm certainly not about to dismiss his entire, bountiful discography on the basis of one track. But... this is an inescapably dumb trifle that seems to be about how much Serrat likes soccer, with the guileless, loungey Latin-pop backing provided entirely by a Yamaha keyboard. He sounds like Neil Diamond or Paolo Conte extemporaneously serenading a small crowd in the musical instruments aisle at Costco. I do think it's whimsically clever that Serrat incorporates a pea whistle both as a traditional Latin percussion instrument and to evoke a referee, but even there he doesn't bother using a real pea whistle; it's just a sound effect on the keyboard, likely next to the "barking dog" key! I may not be enjoying this song precisely in the spirit it was intended, because I'm not sure how much Serrat is just goofing around here, but I'm enjoying it enormously nonetheless.

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