Jose Maria Cano
Mecanonet

Pioneering pop artist says “Getting into the music world today is very brave.”

José Maria Cano, the songwriter and musician who founded the pioneering Spanish pop group Mecano with singer Ana Torroja and his brother Nacho, gave the commencement address to the first graduating class at the Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, Spain.

Looking more professorial than pop star, his jeans covered by a cap and gown and wearing a salt-and-pepper beard, Cano spoke quietly to the students in somewhat awkward English.

“In the '70s in Spain, there was no way to study electric guitar at a university,” Cano told the graduating class of Berklee’s first international Masters’ program at the July 15 ceremony. “For playing the electric guitar you [had to] first to make yourself an outsider.”

Like film director Pedro Almodovar, Mecano, formed in 1981, became an internationally recognized icon of Spain’s explosion into modernity after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, who kept the country under isolating military rule for almost forty years. The brothers Cano and Torroja formed the band in Madrid when the city’s fashion-conscious countercultural revolution, known as the Movida Madrileña, was in full swing.

"In the '80s… Spain turned into a very creative country," Cano told the Berklee graduates. "There was talent all around the place, probably because we came from the political situation where there was no freedom and we discovered this freedom in one go. So everything [had yet] to be done.”

The combination of Torroja’s distinct baby-doll voice, the group’s British-influenced techno-pop sound and Nacho Cano’s hotness made them the biggest band in Spain. They became stars throughout Latin America, and sold millions of albums worldwide, including in Italy and France, where a French version of their racy song “Mujer Contra Mujer” was a hit.

The video for their song “La Fuerza del Destino,” which reached number one in Spain, offers a glimpse of Madrid’s '80s cool, as well as the debut screen performance by a young Penelope Cruz.

Mecano broke up after the release of the 1992 album “7 de Septiembre,” and reunited briefly in 2009. Cano has since focused mostly on a career as a visual artist. His brother Nacho wrote a wildly successful musical based on the band’s story, which premiered in 2005. After successive tours in Latin American countries, “Hoy No Me Puedo Levantar” returns to Madrid this September.

“I am highly proud of this generation of musicians that expect difficult times and they just keep on going,” José María Cano concluded in his commencement address. “You are about to cross the desert… Just keep on going… You will find your ways.”

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