"Before the music industry, there were songs. And no one owned them. And after the music industry there will still be songs." - Manu Chao, The Times February 18, 2002

My enthusiasm for Manu's music (introduced to me via a second-generation tape of Clandestino a housemate loaned from a traveller friend) originally beat my research ethic when writing this node. Oops -- Manu Chao isn't a band, it's a person. Mr. Chao was the lead singer and songwriter of the French-Spanish band Mano Negra, now split from the band when it became clear that he wanted to do something more melodic and varied than punk.

Chao is a political activist - Mano Negra toured Latin America in the early 1990s, and later North Africa. The violence and oppression that he encountered inspired many of the songs on his first solo album, Clandestino. Chao describes himself as a musical journalist. Although there is a message (sung in english, french and/or spanish) in most of the songs, they are anything but heavy - in fact they're extremely engaging and listenable. Bongo Bong and Welcome to Tijuana are typical of the laid-back grooves on the record.

Manu Chao is, as of this writing, somewhere in Africa preparing a second album.

There's no way that Manu Chao can be labelled a sell out. True, his first album was picked up by a major label and sold 400,000 copies worldwide. But this was all the more surprising as word-of-mouth was the driving force behind its success - and proved a more effective marketing tool than the paltry sums that are generally spent on promoting 'world music'.

Manu Chao
  • real name: Oscar Tramor
  • born in France, June 26, 1961 from Spanish immigrants, brought up multi-cultural and multilingual.
  • Started Mano Negra with his brother after playing in various bands as a teenager. Mano Negra lasts 7 albums. Some great songs I remember dancing on: King Kong Five ('89), King of Bongo ('91).
  • The band splits after Casa Babylon (1994).
  • Manu continues his work in the group Radio Bemba, with some musicians of Mano Negra.
  • Using experiences from his travels in South- and Central America (mostly misery), he releases his first solo album Clandestino in 1998. People in Europe and Latin America love the album, the US catches on a year after its release.
  • Mainstream success comes with the second album Proxima Estacion: Esperanza and the song Me Gustas Tu
  • .
  • Manu is well known for his political activism, focussing on the exploitation of 3rd world countries and anti-globalization. While I can certainly identify myself with a lot of his ideas, he DID sign multi-$$$ contracts with multinationals (EMI, Virgin, ...). A 'sold-out' or is he just using the 'enemy' to get a larger audience ? To be fair to him, the same criticism goes for artists like U2 or Sting.

  • In my opinion one should buy his records because they are good, and let's just call the attention he gets for the 3rd world -problems a very, very, very good side-effect.

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