Philly – Manu Chao bringing multicultural music to Philadelphia
September 02, 2011
Hyphens proliferate in descriptions of Manu Chao.
The pan-global pop star is a multilingual singer-songwriter-producer whose kinetic songs are equal parts agitprop
exhortations and party-starting celebrations. He’s a stylistic omnivore: While Jamaican reggae, Latin punk, and North
African guitar rock are most prominent, individual songs can embrace hip-hop, French ballads, football chants, surf music,
or other genres. And his live performances amp everything into overdrive, as heard on last year’s live double album, Baionarena, and as he and his new trio, La Ventura, will demonstrate
Friday night at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing.
His albums are all too infrequent. Since the demise of
Mano Negra, the Paris-based Latin alternative band he
led with his brother from 1986 to 1994, he has released only
three studio albums, the most recent being 2007′s
La Radiolina. But he’s busy: Last year he produced the
debut from Mali’s Smod, an acoustic-rap hybrid, and
collaborated with the patients of a Buenos Aires psychiatric hospital
for Radio La Colifata, a double-album free download.
He infuses both his own music and his work with others with
a spirit of joy and discovery.
« When I do music, my only concept is to try to think like a kid and enjoy myself like a kid, and try as much as possible not to have too much concepts, » Chao says on the phone from his home in Barcelona, Spain. « Kids don’t have concepts. Kids, they live and have the emotions from the moment and they express. Concepts disturb me a little bit in my way of creating. I like, of course, playing and taking this part of music and mixing it with another, and if it fits it’s good, and if it doesn’t fit, we try something else. And we don’t really know where it’s going; we invent in the moment. That’s when I have my fun. »
He likes to test new songs by sneaking into local bars with an acoustic guitar and doing impromptu performances. Although he seeks sounds that are « totally fresh, » Chao, who recently turned 50, also likes to repeat motifs: He reuses phrases and hooks from old songs in new ones, and is sometimes criticized for that.