Manu Chao  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Manu Chao (born José-Manuel Thomas Arthur Chao on June 21, 1961 in Paris, France) is a French-Spanish language singer of Northern Spanish origins. He is also occasionally credited as Oscar Tramor.


Style and influences

Manu Chao sings in French, Spanish, Arabic, Galician, Portuguese, English, and Wolof, often mixing them in the same song. His music has many influences: rock, French chanson, Iberoamerican salsa, reggae, ska, and Algerian raï. These influences were obtained from immigrants in France, his Iberian relations, and foremost his travels in Mesoamerica as a wandering nomad following the disbanding of Mano Negra.

Many of Chao's lyrics are about love, living in ghettos and immigration, and often carry a left-wing message. This reflects Chao's own political leanings—he is very close to the Zapatista movement, whose public spokesman, Subcomandante Marcos, is sampled heavily on Radio Bemba Sound System, and is openly critical of the Bush administration in the US. He has many followers among the European left and the anti-globalization movement.

Chao is also notable for his tendency to reuse music or lyrics from previous songs to form new songs. The hit single "Bongo Bong," in contemporary French style, takes its lyrics from the earlier Mano Negra hit "King of the Bongo," which owes more to The Clash. The musical backdrop for "Bongo Bong," in turn, was used in several other Chao songs, including "Je ne t'aime plus" from the same album and "Mr Bobby" and "Homens" from Próxima Estación: Esperanza. The music from that album's "La Primavera" is used in several other songs on that album, while lyrics for a few songs on Sibérie m'était contéee are repeated several times with different music, leading the lyrics to be interpreted in various ways depending on the mood of the track. Several musical themes and clips from that album also appear on Amadou & Mariam's Chao-produced Dimanche à Bamako, which were being produced at approximately the same time.

Though Manu Chao is one of the world's best selling artists, he is less well-known in the English-speaking world. Tours in the United States with Mano Negra never led to much success in that country, and Chao seems inclined to focus his efforts in Europe and Latin America, where his musical style finds its roots. Though his live performances in the US are exceedingly rare, Chao played a handful of dates in that country in 2006, including a headlining spot at Lollapalooza 2006. His final appearance on his 2006 U.S. tour was a benefit concert in the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, New York on August 7th. In front of a jubilant, sweaty crowd, Chao performed a three and a half hour set that included an hour of encores. He returned to that venue in the summer of 2007 for two concerts, part of the multicultural "Celebrate Brooklyn" concert series. Again, the crowd, heavily representing the pan-Hispanic expatriate community in New York, was treated to a nearly two-hour performance, including two encores. Manu Chao also appeared at Merriweather Post Pavillion in Maryland to a sell out crowd on June 23, 2007. This was a semi-spontaneous endeavour between Thievery Corporation and Manu Chao facilitated by a new found friendship developed during Lollapalooza 2006.


With Mano Negra




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