Songlines | Manu Chao

Manu Chao Profile

  • Born: 1961
  • Related Artists: Amparanoia
  • Related Countries: France
  • Related Genres: Mestizo

The French polyglot Manu Chao started his musical career as a busker and ended up an international rockstar of global fusion


As a pied piper for the disenfranchised and dispossessed, Manu Chao stands proudly alongside the likes of Bob Marley and Joe Strummer. He cites the music of the Wailers and the Clash as the dual sources of his maverick inspiration, although his man-of-the-people punk aesthetic – he’s the rockstar who carries his own bags and prefers to take the subway rather than ride in a record company limousine – would undoubtedly reject comparison with his heroes.

His first solo album, 1998's Clandestino with its playful, global rhythms and insanely catchy melodies, sold five million copies to become one of the biggest-selling world music albums of all time.

Since then his releases have been sporadic. Chao’s style is to disappear for long periods so even his record company cannot find him and then resurface without warning to conduct a fresh guerrilla raid on the mainstream, either with a new set of irresistible songs under his own name or sprinkling his magic dust as a producer and collaborator on albums by the likes of Amadou & Mariam and Calypso Rose.

Born in Paris in 1961, radicalism is in his genes. His family fled from Fascist dictatorship during the Spanish civil war and he grew up in the Parisian suburbs fascinated by the possibilities of rebellion inherent in rock’n’roll. Following several short-lived bands, he formed the multiracial Mano Negra in 1987, establishing themselves as a vital global-punk force in the French alternative music scene.

When the band broke up in the mid-1990s a disillusioned Chao did one of his disappearing tricks and went backpacking around the globe with a small, portable recording machine. The result was Clandestino – and the rest is history.

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