San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ismael Serrano Performing in San José for Charity

LOVED for his lyrical edge and musicaltalent, Ismael Serrano is bringing hismusic and its fame to a fund-raiser for theconstruction of a school in a lower-classneighborhood in Alajuelita.During his second visit to Costa Rica,the acclaimed, and in some circles legendary,Spanish singer/songwriter will performin San José July 15 and 16 with hisentire 12-piece band.One of the new generation of singersingrained in a 30-year-old tradition ofprotest songs that pierced a Spanish dictatorship,Serrano is a poet of social movements.Ticket sales for the twonights are expected to raise$27,000 toward the purchaseof a plot of land forthe Alajuelita school. Thetotal price is $80,000,according to Luis Mata,director of the Adopt-a-School Association. Heenvisions a “modern”school with Internet connectionsin every classroom,a stocked library anda capacity for 1,200 studentsin a lower class neighborhood.Through an arrangement with theMinistry of Education, construction shouldbegin by the end of August, Mata said.To rope Serrano in on the fundraiser, hesimply wrote the singer an e-mail throughhis Web site.“I knew he was interested in social causesand he wanted to help,” Mata said.SERRANO’S fame has swelled on hisinterest in social causes. With a style thatcould be described as mature, electric andacoustic Spanish folk with sharply tippedlyrics aimed at the usual targets – governments,and war, with some respite for a lovesong or two – Serrano has taken to the forefrontof a revival of Spanish discontent.His is a tradition that was nursed back ina series of bars and cafés that opened inMadrid in the early 1990s. They lent a spaceand an audience to a group of youngsinger/songwriters who were weaned onmusic that defied the political climate of 20years before. The country was wallowingunder the dictatorship of Francisco Francowhen those forebears to Serrano’s generationtook to the stage, and was a governmentthat armed the singers with abundant reasonsfor complaint.Serrano’s music and the new wave ofpolitically charged songs found audiencesthat were aware that the country was different,but believed that they should remainattentive.Serrano champions the “second greatsuperpower,” a phrase perhapscoined by the Spanishwriter José Saramago afterthe worldwide demonstrationsFebruary 15, 2003 –meaning that there are nowtwo superpowers in theworld: the United States,and the force of publicopinion.HIS last album,released in September2003, is a double set featureof his most likedsongs and six that werepreviously unrecorded, and includes a songwritten to that second superpower, “ZonaCero” (Ground Zero).The song is a tour of sites of suffering inthe world, all of which Serrano calls “groundzero.” It opens with the attack on the WorldTrade Center and then criticizes the militantwest’s reaction in one brilliant line: “Thesons of decline armed themselves inresponse.”Atreatise for peace follows: “It’s a shamethat you don’t know how to share yourmercy./ Each wound in the skin of this planetis also a ground zero that cries./ And you openanother wound, repeating the same mistake.”The song then hauls listeners on a poeticvisit to other ground zeros: Kabul, Palestineand an undefined “south” where “there are noSeptembers, nor regrets for this land piercedby fire.” And there are others such as India,Grozni, and a poignant vision of Africa where“ground zero distends stomachs and fills bedswith shadows and delirium.”But the sentiment climaxes in the choruswhen the “you” is revealed and Serranochallenges the religious terminology used tojustify the war in Iraq: “And now you, mylove,/ little great superpower/ wake up/ andtell me… that you will plant flowers aroundthe city./ That you will make me tremble./…Let’s go out on the street early/ to shout/that in our name they must not cut/ the handsthat plant seeds/ that nurture./ And if it is inHis name,/ I curse God.”ANOTHER of the “oldies” in his repertoirehas been brought up to date to take aswing at the war in Iraq, but retains most ofits original dissentious appeal.The song, first released on his first albumin 1997, has the unfortunate name “Papácuéntame otra vez” (Dad tell me again), butmakes interesting use of it: “Dad tell me againthat pretty story/ of police and fascists/ andstudents with bangs/ and the sweet urbanguerrillas in bell-bottom pants/ and songs ofthe Rolling Stones, and girls in mini-skirts/Dad tell me again of how you had fun ruiningthe old age of rusty dictators…”The song ambles like that through nostalgiafor rebellion and regret for the futility ofprotests in the streets, spilt blood, police barricades,and the loss of “locos” and pariahs.“Jean Paul Sartre is far away, Paris is faraway,/ and at times I think/ that everything isthe same./ Those who talk too much arebeaten./ And there are the same deaths, rottenby cruelty./ Yesterday they died inBosnia, now they die in Baghdad…”The messages that he does not deliver inhis music, he publishes in newspapers or onhis Web site. The last two articles he wrotedenounce the invasion of Iraq and theattempts of former Spanish President JoséMaría Aznar and his ruling Popular Party tosquelch the news that the bombers of Madridhad ties to Al Qaeda before the presidentialelection days after.He will perform at the NationalAuditorium in the Children’s Museum inSan José at 8 p.m. July 15 and 16.Tickets cost ¢10,000 ($22.85) at thedoor, ¢8,000 ($18.28) in advance and ¢7,000($16) for students with identification. Formore info or to purchase tickets, call theNational Auditorium at 222-7647 or theAdopt-a-School Association at 280-7541.For info on Ismael Serrano, to read hisarticles (in Spanish) and see photos, visit hisWeb site at

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