SEATTLE — With his guitar in hand, wandering aimlessly down the road and occasionally surfacing in a refugee camp in the Sahara or with human rights activists for the rights of prostitutes in Madrid, Manu Chao’s life is the stuff of political and rock and roll legend. The legendary Manu Chao returns to premier five new songs on his website www.manuchao.net after a decade of hiatus from making music.
Jose-Manuel Thomas Chao or Manu Chao was born in France to Spanish parents escaping General Franco’s fascist dictatorship. Like his upbringing, his music is international, multi-cultural, and political in essence. In Chao’s music worlds collide and collaborate. Driving punk guitar leads meet folk flamenco rhythms; bongos and shakers temper experimental electronic noises.
Across this global soundscape, Manu’s singing is often reminiscent of his hero Bob Marley patent reggae delivery and his calls to action. On “El Viento” he sings, “hunger comes, hunger goes, when will it return? ” His lyrics are often composed in Spanish, English, French, Arabic and even Wolof but his message is always a universal call for hope.
Manu Chao’s international fan base has adopted his songs as anthems for change as happened with a Mexican public eager to hear someone address its social problems. In his song “Clandestino,” Chao sings about leaving a family behind to head north and pursue work only to be told by the authorities his life is prohibited. In “Desaparecido,” Manu Chao returns singing from the perspective a “disappeared” person who has become a ghost that is no longer there, only a soul on a road that will never arrive. Manu was received by more than 150,000 fans when he returned to play a concert in the capital of Mexico.
Manu Chao returns to releasing music after a decade of silence. Despite his success and hiatus, he remains an outspoken provocateur, fiercely independent and the man Vice’s music division labeled, “music’s last true radical.”
He re-emerged in typical fashion singing for the first time in Greek, “Athens is boiling…the obvious smell of crisis. Fights in the streets, kisses in the corner.” Another new song “Seeds of Freedom” is in support of poor farmers rights against the reduction of biodiversity and unfair practices by Monsanto towards poor farmers.
This was not Chao’s first extended hiatus from music, his last break came after departing Euro mega-rock group Mano Negra that led to his most creative and iconic music and the creation of the genre of alternative Latin music.
Despite Chao’s recent hiatus he has continued to use his fame and ability as a producer to shine a light on musicians from the developing world who lack opportunity in their own music industries but are now being met with incredible success. He co-produced Toboggan-singer Calypso Rose’s album, and it won the French equivalent of a Grammy. This was repeating his earlier success collaborating with Malian artists Amadou and Mariam to produce a Grammy-nominated album from the unlikely duo.
Manu Chao returns to making music in the unpredictable way that only he can. In 2012, he produced an album with patients inside a mental institution in collaboration with the NGO Colifata to reduce stigma towards mental illness. At the height of Colombia’s guerrilla conflict and the drug war, Chao bought an old locomotive, repurposed it and played at different train stops on both sides of the conflict while advocating for peace. Manu Chao’s passion continues to lead him to new places musically and geographically, and his music makes waiting another 10 years for the next song worth it.
– Jared Gilbert