Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Manu Who?

Is global superstar Manu Chao about to crack Britain?
Tucked away in Barcelona's medieval backstreets, Bar Mariatchi is heaving with dogs, dreadlocks and punters. The area is a reminder that Catalonia's chic capital is still a working port. It is also home to Manu Chao - the musician who may best represent rock'n'roll on a global scale. As he enters the bar, Chao nods to the musicians jamming in a corner, and orders a liqueur. "This is my office," he says.
Chao, 46, is wiry and tousle-haired, with the look of a mischievous schoolboy. Across much of the globe, he is a pop superstar - in Latin nations, his impact is comparable to that of the Beatles and Bob Dylan combined. And his ragged, hybrid sound - he layers Latin and African melodies over driving rhythms, adding anything from mariachi horns to telephone sounds and laughter - has inspired much devotion and countless imitators. So far Britain has remained resistant to his charms. But with Chao's new album, La Radiolina, attracting enthusiastic reviews, and his imminent UK tour selling out quickly, that may be about to change.
Born José-Manuel Chao in Paris to Spanish Republican parents who had fled Franco, Chao grew up in a household filled with music and radical politics. He and his cousin formed Hot Pants, a rockabilly combo, in the early 1980s; with the addition of Manu's brother, the group evolved into eclectic punk outfit Mano Negra in 1987. "We snuck into a show by [Irish punk band] Stiff Little Fingers and it was a revelation," he says. "'Wow! This is pure rock'n'roll!' That opened the door."
Mano Negra's live performances were wild celebrations, and Chao retains their anarchic spirit. "Even when everyone says, 'Go this way,' if instinct tells me to go another, I do. With Mano Negra, the record company were telling us there was strong interest in the US, but we said, 'No, we're off to Latin America.' They screamed, 'Commercial suicide' - but it turned out for the best."
Touring South America by cargo boat and train in the early 1990s won the band respect, yet it also tore them apart. Chao went backpacking, recording his 1998 debut solo album, Clandestino, on his laptop as he went. The album was an exotic musical collage, with lyrics in Spanish, French, Portuguese and English. As Chao's keen melodies, quirky arrangements and busker guitar-strum punched home, it also managed to convey that rare thing: the sound of surprise and enjoyment.(from Guardian)

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