[Documents menu] Documents menu
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1999 23:09:32 -0500 (CDT)
From: Dennis Grammenos <dgrammen@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: Colombia: Singer Manu Chao
Article: 60054
Message-ID: <bulk.637.19990408001554@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Singer Manu Chao

NPR Weekend Edition: A dialog between anchor Scott Simon and reporter Rolando Arrieta, 3 April 1999


Singer and political activist Manu Chao is best known as the founder of the group Mano Negra. In the early 1990s, the Franco-Spanish band gained a wide audience in Europe and a cult following in the United States. They did it by writing songs about poverty and oppression, and setting them to folk melodies and a punk rock beat. Mano Negra broke up about five years ago. It's taken until now for Manu Chao to release his fist solo album. And it's called "Clandestino: Esperando La Ultima Ola." NPR's Rolando Arrieta reports.


In the early 1990s, Mano Negra mounted a tour of Latin America. The musicians made a point of staging concerts for peace in countries torn by domestic war, a subject the group had already written about in its songs.

(Soundbite of music by Mano Negra)

ARRIETA: Mano Negra disbanded during its Latin American tour. But lead singer and songwriter Manu Chao continued his quest to stop the violence. He traveled like a nomad, giving performances throughout South America. While in Colombia, he needed a way to get from one place to another, so he bought an old train.

Mr. MANU CHAO (Singer): This train permitted us to get into the countryside. This part of Colombia is very tough and complicated, a lot of violence. Our government don't rules there. So we decide we just turn Colombia --to make like a show for people in the countryside.

ARRIETA: As he went from town to town, local villagers joined his crusade. Before he knew it, Manu Chao had assembled a traveling circus of musicians, magicians, trapeze artists and others. They helped him put on his shows, and inspired some of the songs on his new album.

(Soundbite of song by Manu Chao, in Spanish)

ARRIETA: Manu Chao's travels were not easy, especially in Colombia. The train kept breaking down. The Colombian army tried several times to commandeer the train to get to leftist guerrillas in remote villages. And the audiences who went to the shows were always armed.

Mr. CHAO: All people coming to the show, they all had a gun. Everybody comes to the show with a gun, you know. It's really, really violent. But we went through with no problem. Everybody respect us. In every town we went during (technical difficulties) the train was there, there was no violence. So that was our little victory.

ARRIETA: After his travels in Latin America, Manu Chao went to North Africa, where he became aware of problems immigrants face when trying to leave for Europe.

Mr. CHAO: Between Africa and Europe, it's every day for Africans more difficult to have papers. When you cross the border after, it's --every day more difficult to leave because the governments in Europe don't recognize nothing for you. And you have to leave like-- with no identity. In Europe, if you skin is a little brown, you know --oh, they'll stop you immediately. You don't --you can't walk. They'll they stop. You got paper'? No.' You don't got papers? OK, go to the plane, go to your country. Out.'

(Soundbite of song by Manu Chao, in Spanish)

Mr. ERNESTO LECHNER (Music Critic, The Los Angeles Times): Manu Chao is the first person to condemn, you know, things that he thinks are wrong in the world. But he always does it with a great sense of humor. He's always been very sarcastic. And the lyrics in "Clandestino" are sarcastic.

ARRIETA: Ernesto Lechner is the music critic for The Los Angeles Times. He points out that in addition to dedicating this album to the anti-government Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, Manu Chao also pokes fun at an immigrant he calls "The King of Bongo Bong."

(Excerpt from song by Manu Chao)

Mr. CHAO: (Singing) Mama was queen of the Mambo, papa was king of the Congo. Deep down in the jungle, I start banging my first bongo. Every monkey liked to be, in my place instead of me because I'm the king of bongo, baby. I'm the king of bongo bong. I went to the big town, where there is a lot of sound. From the jungle to the city, looking for a bigger crowd. So I play my boogie, for the people of big city. But they don't go crazy, when I banging on my boogie. I'm the...'

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) King of the bongo. King of the bongo.'

Mr. CHAO: (Singing) Hear me when I come, baby.'

Woman: (Singing) King of the bongo.'

(End of excerpt)

ARRIETA: Manu Chao's solo debut mixes reggae with kumbias(ph) other Latin American rhythms, dance music and rap to create a work that hangs together like a story,' says critic Ernesto Lechner.

Mr. LECHNER: It is very inspiring to see an artist like Manu Chao reach out in so many different directions and pull it off. Because the record is extremely cohesive. It has a very clear statement that it's making. And it's also, besides all the ideas and all the concepts and the lyrics, it's just a very, very beautiful record to listen to from beginning to end. It's really almost like a concept album. It's a cycle of songs.

ARRIETA: Manu Chao calls himself a musical journalist. And he says this album is an effort to right about social and economic problems in a way that will make people listen.

Mr. CHAO: More and more, I think that's what I am doing. I try to write songs, record them fresh in the moment and talking about something of the day.

(Soundbite of song by Manu Chao, in Spanish)

ARRIETA: Manu Chao is already at work on his next project which will focus on his concerns about the new millennium. He's become a nomad again, this time doing his research somewhere in Africa. For NPR News, I'm Rolando Arrieta in Washington.

(Soundbite of song by Manu Chao, in Spanish)


I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of song by Manu Chao, in Spanish)

Copyright 1999 National Public Radio

COLOMBIA SUPPORT NETWORK: To subscribe to CSN-L send request to listserv@postoffice.cso.uiuc.edu SUB CSN-L Firstname Lastname (Direct questions or comments about CSN-L to csncu@prairienet.org) Visit the website of CSN's Champaign-Urbana (Illinois) chapter at http://www.prairienet.org/csncu Subscribe to the COLOMBIA BULLETIN For free copy and info contact CSN, P.O. Box 1505, Madison WI 53701 or call (608) 257-8753 fax: (608) 255-6621 Email: csn@igc.apc.org Visit the COLOMBIA SUPPORT NETWORK at http://www.igc.org/csn * Visit the COLOMBIAN LABOR MONITOR at http://www.prairienet.org/clm