Born in Merida in 1977, raised and settled in Seville, Fran G. Matute is a local trailblazer who strikes a blow for the power of rock music. In his opinion, rock is an essential part of the aesthetic construction of the 20th century and should be taught from an academic point of view. Over a beer on a warm spring day in Seville, Fran G. Matute speaks his ambitions for rock.
Fran G. Matute is a man of many titles; he’s a journalist, reviewer, festival-organiser, author and teacher. And all of his work addresses culture. However, the working life of Fran G. Matute hasn’t always revolved around culture.
“I am actually a lawyer. I studied tax-law and I was working for an international law-firm for 10 years. I ended up absolutely burned out because of that job, so I needed to rebuild myself”.
When Fran G. Matute quit his job, he made himself the promise that he from this day on would occupy himself with things that he cares for.
“Culture has always been my thing; since I was a little boy I’ve been obsessed with films, with music, with books, and when I left my lawyer-job, I wanted to find something concerning culture. The challenge was that I had no experience at all in this field, so it was like total a conversion. I think I was lucky because within one year I started to find different jobs at different small places, where I started developing my cultural works. That was the beginning of my career, my new career,” Fran laughs.
Fran G. Matute is now working as a journalist for El Cultural, the supplement of the culture magazine El Mundo, where he reviews foreign literature. He conducts interviews for Jot Down, another dominant culture magazine in Spain, and furthermore, Fran G. Mature runs workshops and courses with rock music as focal point at the Centre for Cultural Initiatives at the University of Seville (CICUS). He has written books about the development of the Andalusian culture, and four years ago, he started the literary music-festival Bookstock.
Rock at university
The basis of Fran’s collaboration with CICUS is founded on his idea of bringing rock music into the academic sphere. Why on earth is this important to you?
“Well. To be honest, rock music is my thing – it’s the thing that I love the most. I have never made music myself, it’s something that I like to enjoy … in a passive way. I’ve read a lot about rock music and the history of rock, and I know a thing or two about musical language. What strikes me is that rock is not considered as high status inside the academic circles because it’s a popular art form. There are a lot of clichés about rock music like Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll, and that’s also a part of it, but it’s much more complicated than that,” Fran explains.
“Rock is incredible lyrics, incredible melodies. Rock music is just as complex as cinema, as art, as literature. And all these forms of art are already included in the academic language – why is rock left out?”
A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE
Some might just shrug at the fact that studying rock hasn’t been possible until now, but to Fran G. Matute there is a deeper idea behind bringing rock into the academic sphere.
“Rock is very important and from my perspective, it’s the most important language of the 20th century. It’s obvious that rock should be included in the academic field, since it’s a part of our mutual history. The rock music has influenced the world, like a universal culture. What’s fascinating is that in Spain, and in many other countries, people didn’t understand the English lyrics when the rock begun to sprout in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. It was the music itself – the rhythm, the sound – that people all around the world found relatable. This is what makes rock language a universal one. The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan has a famous quote saying: The medium is the message. This is clear with rock music.”
How do you study rock at an academic level?
“I don’t think that you can study something that rose from the people, from the streets, in a stiff and academic way. My aim is to try to help people to enjoy the language of rock music. For the workshops I make at the University of Seville, my idea is to imitate the book clubs. At a book club you meet and discuss a book – why can’t you do that with a record? You can spend hours, even weeks on talking about one record – who recorded it? Who’s playing this instrument? Who are they influenced by? What was its importance? Who made the cover? And to be honest, people are fascinated. This is something they haven’t experienced before, and they had no idea that it’s possible to talk about one song for a whole evening without repeating yourself.”
An obvious question is where this passion of Fran G. Matute’s springs from. However, this is the first time the Fran gives this topic a thought himself.
“I don’t know, no, not really. This has been my interest since I was 10 years old and I don’t know why. I used to listen a lot to radio and at some point, I got obsessed with music from the 60’s. That was my first love.”
Fran takes a sip of his beer and has a reflective look on his face.
“There is one thing that suddenly strikes me; when I was a child, we used to rent out a room in our house to American exchange students. And these American students really taught me a lot about music. They brought their cassette tapes from home with their favourite tune, and they had an excellent taste – James Taylor, Paul Simon, Neil Young… When the students headed back home to The United States, they usually left the tapes for me. And I think that this influence might be more important than I was aware of. This is something that I’ve just realised now…”
Making a living out of interests?
You are working as a journalist for two of the most influential cultural magazines in Spain, teaching rock music at an academic level, writing books about the cultural development in Andalusia and you are conducting a literary music festival – a festival consisting of two of the subjects you are most dedicated about. Are you making a living out of your interests?
“Not really a living,” laughs Fran. “Making a living out of this is very hard. You have to be persistent and you have to be here, there and everywhere. In fact, I’m still working as a lawyer once in a while. I only have one client, but that is my most steady source of income… However, I will never go back to the way things were before.”
Why here? In Seville?
“I have been living here my entire life and I love the city. Seville is a splendid place to live, and this might be the reason why I am doing what I am doing. I am not doing it for myself, I’m doing it because I like that things are happening in the city.
The Seville that I know is not a snobbish city; people here are not interested in being hip and modern – they are stuck in some kind of past, ha. It’s difficult to say something in general about Seville, but there is one bar in the area of Alemeda which, in my opinion, describes the Seville I love. At this bar, it’s wonderful just to observe people. They are so different from each other; there are people from the upper classes, people from the lower classes, gipsies, people living on the streets… it’s so mixed, and as far as I can see, everybody gets along with each other. It’s like a strange community. And to me, that’s Seville.”
Fran takes a brief pause, and after a while he continues with a twinkle in his eye;
“Obviously, there are also places where very elitist people go, but I don’t deal with those people – and they are not going to my courses to talk about Bob Dylan either,” he laughs.
There’s no doubt that Fran G. Matute is making a determined effort in order to breathe life into the cultural life of Seville. And yet, he remains modest.
“I don’t feel that my work is influencing the cultural life here, no, not really. The festival I make is a small attempt to make the cultural scene in Seville more dynamic. But I think it’s hard to tell at this stage if it has changed anything. Maybe in the future I can see if I my work had some kind of impact. To me, it’s a huge success experience when I meet people who once participated in some of my workshops and they say, ‘Please do it again’. I still get emails from people who ask me if there will be more workshops to come. I think they get back to me because they find it fun, instructive and interesting to be a part of. They learn how to listen to music in a different way and they learn how to enjoy music.
And for me it’s like a dream to talk about my interest.”