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Manu Chao (1961 - )


Manu Chao (born June 21, 1961 in Paris; real name Jose-Manuel Thomas Arthur Chao; also occasionally credited as Oscar Tramor) is a French Latin folk singer.

Chao's parents were Spanish - or to be more precise, his mother is Basque and his father, writer Ramón Chao, is Galician - , but moved to Paris to escape Francisco Franco's dictatorship (which lasted until the dictator's death in 1975). Manu Chao thus spent his childhood near Paris.

Manu Chao was a well-known member of the Parisian alternative music scene, in bands such as the Hot Pants and Los Carayos. In 1987, Chao, his brother Antoine Chao and their cousin Santiago Casariego founded the band Mano Negra. Mano Negra met with success in France first with the hit single Mala vida, then toured South America. The band split circa 1995.

He sings in French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, English, and Wolof, often mixing them in the same song. Although he is one of the world's largest selling artists, he is not well-known in the English-speaking world.

His music has many influences: rock, French chanson, Spanish-American salsa and Algerian raď. These influences were obtained from immigrants in France and his travels in Iberoamerica. Some of Chao's lyrics are about love, living in ghettos and immigration, and occasionally carry a left-wing message. He has many followers among the European left and the anti-globalization movement, though some resent his being part of the music establishment. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manu_Chao [Feb 2005]


If you like tracks like Manu Chao's "Clandestino" and "Mentira", you will probably want to check out the latin section and our Brazil pages. Also don't forget the Africa pages, because Africa is often at the roots of popular music as we know it today in the West

Way back when, there was Mano Negra, an explosive eight or nine (more?) piece with an international roster. Their sound was as motley as their lineage, but they poured a myriad of influences into a high pressure cooker, and the results were pretty explosive.

Nearly ten years later comes Clandestino, Mano Negra frontman Manu Chao's solo effort. Singing in several languages and seemingly utilizing only a handful of chords and riffs, Chao has released a thought-provoking collection of music that hangs together beautifully and gracefully. Clandestino unites songs of varying sound, style and tempo into a single unit by fading between tracks whenever possible, rallying about a heavy reggae core that brings about memories of the early Police.

If there's anything that might keep you from enjoying this record to its fullest, it's its multilingual nature. Chao writes a bit goofy in English, but has some quite lucid moments in Spanish. Liner notes are provided, but they don't include translations. For example, "Mentira" ("Lie") declares everything on this world to be a lie, while in the background a dubby repetitive beat drones on, the odd sample drifts in and out, and a newscaster details the events of the Conference on Global Warming (in Spanish). Chao is rightly disillusioned with a lot of the world's inequalities, and he makes his observations pretty clear, if you can speak his languages.

Clandestino is one of the most gripping records I've heard in some time. Manu Chao has shown himself to be a powerful songwriter and musician, able to deliver both in lyric and music. One album does not quite place Chao in league with people like Bob Marley, but he's certainly showing the potential here. Ark 21, 14724 Ventura Blvd., Penthouse Suite, Sherman Oakes, CA 91403; http://www.ark21.com

--Ian Koss


  1. Manu Chao - Clandestino [Amazon US]
    As one of the driving forces in the French-Spanish ethno-punk band Mano Negra, songwriter-guitarist Chao delivers a surprising solo endeavor. Centered around a simple editorial writing style and an acoustic guitar, this album chronicles his political and personal travels around the world, studying the foibles of life in Latin America and the Caribbean, through Africa and back to Europe. He quotes but never actually plays salsa, son, reggae, Latin pop, and African folk music, all to the service of his songs (written and sung in English, French, and Spanish). The backing is a deceptive hodgepodge of guest artists and collected sounds he has pasted together to service the simple songs he sings. There is a circuslike feel to the whole project, a childlike sense of wonder coupled with a cynical and sometimes sly glance at the "real world." This is a single piece of work, each song bleeding into the next without stopping, a train ride that slows at each station along the way but never stops. It has charm, wit, and depth--a rare and potent combination of virtues for a pop musician. --Louis Gibson

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