MANU CHAO (France/Spain)
Paris born, Barcelona based and a true citizen of the world, Manu Chao is a superstar across much of Europe and Latin America and that rare artist who appears to mean all things to all people. For some Manu’s the saviour of rock’n’roll. To others Chao’s the future of world music. For many this Latin imp is an iconic figure who rails against the ills of globalisation and the abuses of governments. “I’m an activist,” says Chao, “as we all should be. Just don’t call me a leader – leaders get corrupted.”
Chao’s rise to stardom began with Mano Negra, the pioneering French rock band who existed from 1986 - 1994. Often described as “the French Clash”, Mano Negra blended punk energy with Latin flavours. An anarchic tour of Colombia by train finished off Mano Negra. Chao then relocated his base to Barcelona. A period of prolonged travel found Manu in Brazil, Peru, Chile, North Africa, Senegal and Mali. Recordings made on a portable eight track were released in 1998 as Clandestino. Quickly recognised as a seminal disc, Clandestino’s songs are about love, sun, marijuana and the suffering of the “clandestinos” (illegal immigrants) with Manu swapping tongues, Spanish to French to English. Clandestino began as an underground hit then went over-ground – sales are in excess of five million copies.
Manu escaped encroaching celebrity by returning to travelling, acoustic guitar and porta-studio in backpack. “I have what the Spanish call ‘a worried ass’,” said Chao when I interviewed him earlier this year. “I literally cannot stay in one place too long.” In 2001 he released Proxima Estation: Esperanza. This engagingly optimistic album repeated Clandestino’s success. A live album followed in 2003 then Manu focused on producing projects – the fairy dust he sprinkled on blind Malian duo Amadou & Mariam turned their 2006 album Dimanche A Bamako into a huge international hit.
In 2007 Chao returned with new album La Radiolina. While featuring his trademark Latin melodies and eccentric ska rhythms, La Radiolina found Chao angry at politicians and playing loud rock guitar. A recent four night stint at the Brixton Academy found young London embracing Barcelona’s best loved son’s furious Latino rock’n’roll hybrid.
CD Review on BBC Music
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