In journalism you have moments when new avenues of cultural elements are introduced to you. My interview with Alfredo Merat, who is appearing at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, was just such a moment. On Saturday, December 8 at 8 p.m. Alfredo will present his show entitled, Jacques Brel by Alfredo Merat.
As a most pleasant multi-cultural artist, the conversation with Alfredo Merat brought me through the streets of Paris, the corners of New York City and the bouquet of wonder that is present day Sag Harbor. Born in Madrid, Spain, Alfredo’s family moved to France to find opportunities when he was five-years-old. His family first settled in Bordeaux, a region most of known for its wine. When he came of age Alfredo gravitated to Paris. It was while he was in Paris he began to be aware and affected by the genius of songwriter, poet, and French cultural icon, Jacques Brel.
Keep in mind Jacques Brel’s manifestation in France was at about the same time as when Bob Dylan permeated in America. Whereas Dylan drew from traditional American folk music, Mr. Brel drew from the medieval literature and heritage of France. You can only imagine how different his sound mixed with a Latin flavor was at the time. Jacques Brel also influenced Cat Stevens’ early music.
The metamorphosis of importance of Jacques Brel in Alfredo Merat’s life is both complicated and simple. He explained that it started as “growing up in France he was someone that I knew,” to becoming obsessed with properly telling the Brel story in a show/play perhaps in the future. The story he tells is he was walking “through a Parisian neighborhood” when he noticed he was standing in front of the venue Jacques Brel often played. “It brought back thoughts of Brel’s songs and made me think about him. I preceded a few doors down and noticed in the bookstore a book on Brel, which I purchased. The events of that day along with the reading of the book launched me on this quest.” In 2016 Alfredo introduced the songs of Jacques Brel to the Bay Street audience. Now Aflredo Merat wants to go beyond just introducing the songs as he is planning a special night of probing into the social and musical significance of the lyrics, the song composition and essence. He plans on doing this in both French and in English. He will have six skilled musicians to assist him in bring the sounds, the words, and the soul of Jacques Brel “live” back.
Having now lived within the Sag Harbor community since 1986, Alfredo claims other key musical influences on him were Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. You can see a pattern of storytelling songwriters there. Alfredo is a self-taught guitarist who plays an acoustic guitar strung with nylon strings, sort of Spanish classical style yet he insists he plays more like Young and Brel.
It will be well worth the time to expand your musical cultural horizons to make sure you get to this show. However, I am sure this will not be the last you hear of Alfredo Merat presenting Jacques Brel. I am quite sure this quest of Alfredo’s will expand and grow over time. Some musical songs are as forever as tales like Homer’s Odyssey. There are tunes in China, Egypt, India, and Europe that are all old as man. Music lovers understand.
Tickets to Alfredo Merat sings Jacques Brel are $30.
Bay Street is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit www.baystreet.org.