BarcelonaJuly 9, 1992. It was ten o'clock at night in the Plaza de Toros de la Monumental when Carles Sabater, handsome as an Adonis, with curly hair and a leather suit, came out on stage doing a somersault. Look at the horizon, feel the microphone and move your hips. In front of him are 10,000 spectators and behind him, backstage waiting for their turn, are music legends like Robbie Robertson, from the band and Phil Manzanera, from Roxy Music, who, by pure coincidence, ended up accompanying Sao at this concert. It starts ringing You light my fire And everyone is going crazy. This would be the most successful moment of his entire career.
This February marks twenty-five years since the death of Carles Sabater. Pop icon, actor, youth idol and, above all, eternal São singer, with whom he formed one of the five Catalan rock charts and was one of the most popular bands in the country's contemporary history. Born somewhat by accident, in you, as a result feeling Shared between an actor who loves to sing – Sabater – and a guitarist and composer – Pep Sala, his story is summed up in twelve years of activity, seven studio albums and hundreds of concerts. The Barcelona-born vocalist died at the age of 36 due to cardiac and respiratory arrest. A few minutes ago he had descended from the Casal Theater in Villafranca del Penedes, where he had begun a new tour. The body is gone, but the legend remains. With his sudden death, the club of cursed musicians swelled and left thousands of fans of his songs orphaned.
In order to understand the legend, we have to travel back in time to the end of the 1980s. At the time, patriotic music was released by some of the most popular and beloved Spanish-language pop bands of the time, with names such as El Último de la Vela, Los Rebeldes, Luquillo, and The Cave Dwellers. Suddenly, as if orchestrating a shock plan, a series of new groups appeared that made the almost political decision to sing in Catalan. All of them will face a relevant historical context, characterized by pre-Olympic euphoria and a void to be filled in national and linguistic identity, especially outside Barcelona. This movement was called “Catalan rock”, despite the addition of an irreconcilable mixture of styles.
A handful of bands emerged, but the ones that would follow the victor's path were Supa de Cabra, Sangtrite, Els Beats, Laksin Posto, and Saw. The latter were distinguished, at first, by their melodies, but above all by their extraordinary professionalism. “They were very clear in their desire to succeed and worked harder than others. Over time they became the first major reference for commercial pop music in our language,” says Oriol Rodríguez, journalist and author of the book “Pop”. Wing Headgear An Oral History of Catalan Rock (Contra, 2018).
In this context of the explosion of the cultural movement, Carles Sabater stood out for being Frontman Journalist Pip Blay perfectly explains: “He was one or two steps ahead, because in addition to singing, being handsome, and having a good time, he dominated the stage.” He thought of everything, from how to attract the audience's attention to how to light the stage or how to arrange and dress the rest of the musicians. A fact remembered by Pep Sala, his partner in battles with São: “I was in charge in the studio, but he was in charge on stage. He was very demanding, he worked like a prisoner and did not leave out any details.” “In the air. In fact, I was choosing which shirts to wear to the live shows.”
His presence, charisma and expertise with his voice – “It evolved a lot, between the first and last album they seemed to be different singers,” Sala recalls – made him a great reference for the scene, sharing the spotlight with Gerard Quintana, with whom he vied to symbolically lead Catalan rock. “Everyone followed their own path, but only Sabater had the real desire to become a star,” says Blay, a prominent Catalan rock journalist and author of, among others, books. A broken heart, the death and life of Carles Sabater (Navona, 2024).
After their musical recording, they would experience their artistic and also popular peak between 1989 and 1992. At that time, they were going to make their best album –What a night-, Concerts all over the country, will release a double album –The greatest sin– They will close the theater with the huge show, which will then be the “finale.” Midnight party. Sau's best songs from then on are: There is no point in continuing, Midnight train, Even if they are from a bar, If I had to go back one day, This can be saved And known He loves you madly.
It was a phase in which the machine was fully operational, with Sabater united as the center of the national pop fan phenomenon and Pep Sala as the ideal centre. Hit maker. Everything was on wheels and the group carefully looked after its large group of followers, organized under the name Clam Sau. “At a time without the Internet, he was the link between us and them,” recalls Marta Piech, Clam Sau’s coordinator. “They wrote us information letters with all the news of the group and the concert schedule and we organized buses to go there.” An association that Sabater remembers every year in honor of Llançà (Alt Empordà).
The triumph of representation
In the mid-nineties, Catalan rock fever subsided. The Olympics have passed, the context has changed, and the souffle has slowly diminished. But also the priorities of the vocalist that increased his work as an actor. Sabater wanted to be like James Dean, the actor who graced his room with a poster, and now the door was opened for him to emulate him.
At the time he started with Sau, Sabater was a promising actor in his early twenties in the cast Cyrano de Bergerac Directed by Josep Maria Flautas. During the years of maximum activity with the group, the aspect as an actor was slightly left aside, but the recovery did not last long. Already a well-known face, in 1994 he participated in it Arnau, a historical series that achieved a record budget on TV3. Some of his best moments on screen and on stage would come with Angels Junialons, who he worked with Now what, Xenia? He participated in a very symbolic musical play, both of us. “They became an iconic duo in the 90s. “I can only say great things about actor Carles – recalls the actress -. He had a great sense of humor and great comedy that made her laugh. In addition, he was a very good singer with a very wide record.” With Piratesby Dagoll Dagom and especially the wonderful performance in a company, with Calixto Beto at its helm, will receive the long-awaited unanimous applause of the specialized press. “He suffered great misunderstanding from theater critics simply because he was a singer of Sau. Until his work with Bieito, the prejudices were not removed from him and it was considered a great triumph,” recalls Pep Bligh. Ángeles Junialons also remembers this distrust: “The fact that he was so attractive was covered by brutal qualities the likes of which I never saw again.”
All that success suddenly ended on the fateful night of February 13, 1999. It cannot be ignored that there are many myths surrounding the cause of death. Being young, singing and having your heart stop at night is too tempting a combination to draw conclusions, often in haste. Pep Blay has more than researched the subject and wrote about it in the autobiography of Sabater that he has just published: “Carles suffered from chronic stress that was greatly aggravated by overwork and his heart suffered greatly from it. It has been said about his relationship with nightlife and doping, and of course he was not exempt from it, but “Like any other normal person, the doctors who were able to see the autopsy determined that he did not have any kind of addiction or drug problem. Instead, he had an irregular heartbeat and heart problems that went undetected.” The fact is that the São singer fainted backstage, immediately after the concert, and arrived dead at the Vilafranca del Penedes General Hospital.
Send me an angel
The disappearance of Carles Sabater was a shock to the country's culture. A person with abundant talent, a tremendous presence, and a promising future has passed away. For his friends, the public persona dissolved and the memory of the person remained. “The most intimate Carles was the one who got the gang going and made everyone laugh. I will always remember his smile, he was very clownish,” recalls Ángeles Junialons. Here he highlights his sense of humor, complicity, professionalism at work, and his incorruptible desire to please, and perhaps also to cover up his fears. Because he had it like no one else. “He was able to seduce the waiter who brought you pizza,” laughs Pep Sala, who with Sabater's death not only lost a successful band, but also an irreplaceable friend. “Our friendship has always come before everything. We have a series of really important people in our lives. Carles was one of them.”
We stayed with series, movies and songs, those that changed the lives of many people. “When I was a kid I cried every time I heard it Send me an angel“, recalls singer Joan Colombo. “The songs are there and they will not stop playing, and as long as this happens the flame will remain. “They say that no one dies until they are completely forgotten, and that Cao's legacy and the memory of Carles are indelible,” says Marta Piech of Kalam Sao. It is interesting, and perhaps controversial, where we place São's music. In the history of Catalan pop music, Oriol Rodríguez is clear that his catalog “has the same level of importance as a Cessa, a Riba or a Manel for the music of this country”.
A quarter of a century has passed and Carles Sabater is still present to his friends. “When we get together, the whole band is constantly there, reminiscing about the battles and remembering him. It's strange and nice at the same time,” Pep Sala explains. Those who didn't know him will always be able to hear his clear, melodic voice, perfect for pop singing, representing a country music stage essential to everything that came after.
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