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The BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music The BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music
Manu Chao

Artist: Manu Chao

Category: Europe/Middle East; Boundary Crossing; Innovator (Winner); Listeners Award

Read an interview with Manu Chao.

Remember Mano Negra? They were France's answer to The Clash and their anarchic mix of rock 'n' rai, ska 'n' salsa made them one of the finest bands of the early 1990s. Dissolving in 1994, you'd be forgiven for believing all members to have vanished. Think again: lead singer Manu Chao has reemerged and is a superstar across the Continent and Latin America. With his two solo albums, 1998's Clandestino and this year's Proxima Estation: Esperanza (Next Station: Hope), he's mapped out a musical territory of unique brilliance.

Mano Negro refused to play the corporate rock game - they recruited buskers as band members, turned concerts into circus-style extravaganzas, toured Latin America in a cargo boat, wrecked an Argentinean TV studio when asked to give a definition of anarchy and traversed Colombia by train (negotiating with guerrillas and army as to where they could play) - and Manu Chao appears no more likely now to cuddle up to MTV. Constantly travelling, his albums' sound like they were composed and recorded along the way. Chao admits this is part of the process.

'In the old days, you had to go into a studio for a couple of months - now I have a portable studio that I can take as hand luggage. I've spent considerable time in Brazil, Madrid, Mexico, North and West Africa and as I develop songs I can record them and the sounds surrounding them.'

Chao sings in a mosaic of languages - Spanish, French, Portuguese, English, Wolof - and his voice and chunky acoustic guitar are as engaging as a circus busker. On both albums he sings of marginalised people and their cultural resilience.

'I'm completely in support of the anti-globalisation movement,' he says. 'I donate royalties to the Zapatistas in Showpiece, and I don't trust politicians - you've got to act on a neighbourhood level.'

Biography by Garth Cartwright, November 2001

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