Before Manu Chao’s rise to stardom, there was Mano Negra and ‘Puta’s Fever’

Before Manu Chao’s rise to stardom,

there was Mano Negra and ‘Puta’s Fever’

February 13, 8:29 AM

by Ian Malinow,

Manu Chao

His music is unlike anything you’ve heard before.

As a best-selling solo recording artist today, Manu Chao and his band, Radio Bemba Sound System, are at the top of their game.

With more than four chart-topping albums to their credit, including his newest « La Radiolina, » the singer-songwriter of French and Spanish descent is riding the wave of success and is not showing signs of slowing down.

Yet, years before becoming

a household name in the world’s mainstream pop/world beat pulse, Chao – whose distinctive voice and unique arranging styles have won him commercial acclaim – did some extraordinary work as the eccentric and funky leader of Mano Negra, a multi-ethnic, fusion group he formed in a Paris metro station in 1987.

Between 1987-94, the band put out five ‘undergro

und’ releases, and « Puta’s Fever » is among its best. It is a colorful hybrid blend of rock, African, flamenco, ska, rai, salsa and reggae, with Chao singing in French, Spanish, English and Arabic.

Instead of being a mere hodgepodge of different languages and sounds, it’s a seamless, energizing brew that melds perfectly.

The music flows freely from one song to the next; the funky arrangements infectious; and the voice sails through each song.

Lyrically, the 18 songs are steeped in social commentary, but filled with dark, witty humor.

From the disc’s ska-influenced self-titled opener to the rock-flavored « Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, » the tracks capture the essence of the group, which is mainly based on different Latin American cultures together with European and Afro-Caribbean musical roots.

Among the most feel-good, and socially conscious tunes are « King Kong Five, » « Sidi H’Bibi, » Magic Dice, » « The Rebel Spell, » « Mala vida, » « Mad House, » « Voodoo » and « The Devil’s Call. »

Loud, aggressive, and rhythmically challenging, Mano Negra’s music is neither ideal for background music nor meditation. But its contagious beats and inspiring lyrics are likely to pump you up and make you want more with each listen.