BBC Review of Manu Chao
Andy Fyfe 2009-11-16
Diminutive radical Manu Chao lives in a high-energy world that comes in any colour you like, as long as they’re red, gold and green. There’s another clue to his worldview in the name of his six-piece backing band, Radio Bemba, sort of named for Radio Rebelde, Che Guevara’s rebel station during the Cuban revolution. So it will surprise no one that on this live album the former Mano Negra frontman’s channelling of the spirits of Bob Marley and Joe Strummer plays well to his native French audience (he was born in Paris to Spanish parents fleeing Franco’s dictatorship). Recorded in Bayonne at the last show of a two-year world tour, it’s astonishing that Chao still has the energy to whip the crowd, any crowd, into such a delirious frenzy.
It’s certainly not just in the music much itself, often little more than a frenzied romp through the punky reggae party rulebook, all hyper drumming, parping ska horn stabs, frenetic three-chord strums and siren samples. So while the idea that pretending we’re all Jamaican gypsies living in a global dope squat is the world’s best foot forward may appeal to many of the million or so people who bought Chao’s last album, what really sets him apart is the utter conviction and passion with which he delivers his message of unity and rebellion, probably better understood through the accompanying DVD performance.
Though his Marley-esque cries of « ay yoh yoh yoh » could only be truly appreciated by those who were there, when Radio Bemba stop their running-on-the-spot dancing tracks such as the title song from 1998′s Clandestino or Desaparecido shine all over again. And even if there’s no room for gentler moments from his back catalogue like Clandistino’s ‘other’ tracks Bongo Bong and Je Ne T’Aime Plus, even through the haze of exhaustion just from listening to this double album you will be amazed at the sheer, neck-straining stamina and commitment.
It’s world music, yes, but in the greatest possible sense of such a term, both universal and uniting.