Pop went the protest singer – the strange rise of Manu Chao

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

Manu Chao is the su­per­star you’ve prob­a­bly never heard of. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Back in 2002, Ir­ish pro­mot­ers MCD booked Chao for a Dublin show and put him in Whe­lan’s. The gig sold out in min­utes so the puz­zled pro­mot­ers moved the show to the larger ca­pac­ity Ambassador. That also sold out rapidly. Within a few months, Chao was play­ing the Point (now the O2) and com­fort­ably sell­ing that out too.

How Chao be­came a most un­likely global su­per­star makes for a colour­ful tale and one which Peter Cul­shaw tells well in Clan­des­tino, his new bi­og­ra­phy of the Paris-born singer with Galician and Basque Coun­try fam­ily lines. Any story that fea­tures a band play­ing shows on trains around Colom­bia or on cargo ships sail­ing up and down South Amer­ica is al­ways go­ing to be colour­ful.

Those two es­capades starred Mano Ne­gra, Chao’s old band, a mix of strong per­son­al­i­ties, great en­ergy and rad­i­cal ideas. Af­ter the band fell apart in the mid­dle of that Colom­bian tour, Chao bummed around the world look­ing for some­thing –

any­thing – to re­place the band. What came out of this was

Clan­des­tino, his first solo al­bum, which be­came word-of-mouth suc­cess thanks to the back­pack­ing and in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ling scenes. His heady mix of punk, reg­gae, Latin and ska aligned with rab­ble-rous­ing spirit, pop mag­netism and right-on protest songs, ap­plied to a post-glob­al­i­sa­tion world, had found an au­di­ence.

Clan­des­tino is a great read be­cause Cul­shaw is ob­jec­tive enough to ques­tion Chao’s mo­tives as well as laud his mu­sic. The best parts of the story are how Chao ended up as a pop star in­volved in protests and ac­tivism but not de­spised by his fans for do­ing so. As tales of un­likely global stars go, this is well worth your time.

Manu Chao: an un­likely global su­per­star

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