“I talk about what I see, and I’m so sorry that 99% of what I see is no good.” Manu Chao



If you're in the mood for happy music, go to my last post, but if your inclination is toward darkness, stay here.

When I started medical marijuana, I switched overnight from talk radio all day long to music radio all day long. I started with modern American pop stations because I was looking for musicians to complement my collection of artists from the sixties and seventies. Whenever a commercial came on, I would flip to another station trying to find even one artist I liked, but I never did, and it wasn’t because I was stuck in the past. Indeed, I was screaming to be carried into the 21st century music scene, but not just because I live in the 21st century. Since I liked a Colombian singer whom Peggy enjoys named Shakira, I started getting library CDs by other Latin performers, and that’s when I stumbled upon Manu.

Music is crucial to my altered vision of the world, and so I had to find at least one new artist for this new day, an artist in whom I recognized brilliance, integrity, passion, and benevolence. I didn’t want an artist who would take me out of this world, but an artist who would put me more deeply into it than the news ever had. Manu is that artist. Listening to too much news hadn’t opened my heart; it had overwhelmed it under a cloak of objectivity, and I had closed myself off in defense.

You can find Youtube footage of Manu Chao performing concerts at packed soccer stadiums in dozens of countries on several continents, but if you’re an American, you’ve probably never heard of him. Such is our isolation. The song at the top was the first I heard by him. The opening lines (“Welcome to Tijuana. 
Tekila, sexo y marihuana”) made me think that the song was either a tribute to or a spoof about a major Mexican/American border city, and I smiled. Then, Manu’s voice—and other sounds and voices—began to come in one by one with incredible sadness. So it was that my first lesson about Manu Chao was that his music never gives me what I expect. I can’t even listen to two-thirds of a song by him, and guess where he’s going with the last third.

Manu grew up in Paris, the son of Spaniards who fled Franco. He’s a leftist who sings in many languages but mostly in Spanish. A common theme in his music is wealthy countries and individuals that live on the backs of the poor. Yet, to one like myself who has to look up the translations, his music initially sounds almost upbeat, and this combination of sad words and happy music makes the sadness more profound. I hear in his music the irony between how we all, to some degree, appear on the surface versus the heartbreak that we feel within. I’m also attracted to the layering of voices and instruments and to the changes of direction that he often takes within the course of a single song. So far as I know, there’s no name for his style of music.

Below is the same song performed before a live audience in France. Part of his appeal as a live musician lies in his ability to turn the mood of tens of thousands of people back and forth instantly. This--along with seeing him on stage--makes the video phenomenal, although I find the actual music less pleasing than the studio version.

17 comments:

The Bipolar Diva said...

I like

The Elephant's Child said...

I had never heard of him either. Thanks. The interaction with the live audience made me think that he (like many others) is a musical vampire, feeding from the emotions produced. And yes, I spend most of my life on the dark side. Quelle surprise.

Beau's Mom said...

I never try to find another singer or song. My new computer sounds tinny to my ears. My little portable radio is just as bad and I don't have anything remotely like a CD player. Excuse me, but I must go trim the wick on my kerosene lantern. Sheesh. I AM behind the times lil' brother.

Linda said...

Thanks for the intro to this guy Snow. I like him so much! But then, I love anything from Mexico and have a strange fascination with Tijuana.

Snowbrush said...

Hi, Diva. Hi, Linda. Glad you liked him.

Dana, if you have a Costco nearby, you can pick up a perfectly adequate iPod player, CD player, and radio for around $80, and then take it back for a full refund two years from now if it fails.

Child said: "The interaction with the live audience made me think that he (like many others) is a musical vampire, feeding from the emotions produced."

Why vampire? Why not symbiosis (as I'm using the word, it means a relationship in which each individual is dependent upon and receives reinforcement from the other). As I see it, the audience is not only NOT being exploited, the audience is getting exactly what they paid to receive, and would surely give Manu hell if he insisted on performing as if he were in a recording studio.

Ranch Chimp said...

Enjoyed the piece and video's, Thanx

The Elephant's Child said...

OK. Vampire might be the wrong word. Nonetheless, he is certainly feeding from the audience. I give you that they are also feeding from his and the band's energies. I prefer the studio version. Perhaps it is the parasitical me that is feeding from the studio version, and objecting to sharing the energies. You have me questioning myself again. Which is probably a good thing, just not a comfortable one.

yoborobo said...

I love the live version.

Kay Dennison said...

I love Latin music! My favorite the old songs but this excellent!!!! My last job was working at the local hispanic center as admin asst. and had the pleasure of working on fund-raisers and meeting some of the better known artists in the country.

Rob-bear said...

Sad and soulful, Snow. I think the music would just keep getting to me.

All Consuming said...

The studio version is not my bag at all but I really like the live one. It's very reminiscent of SKA music which has so much energy in it. Nice one.

Strayer said...

I have no clue what he's saying. Nice crew in the band, nice voices and beat.

Beau's Mom said...

Snow, I assume you've notice that only the ones who truly care about you are still around.

It seems that since you mellowed out and stopped antagonizing the "moral majority" into having you drawn and quartered, the ones who truly wish you the best are still here.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Check out Edward Sharpe and the magnetic zeros.

And if you like southern soul, try mark arnell / I90. He's the voice of of the lead character in Memphis Beat

RNSANE said...

Well, actually, I like the studio version the best because I can understand it so much better. I speak Spanish pretty well and the words are so much clearer in this recording than the live show which is too loud for me! I like him, though, and will listen to more of him on YouTube.

By the way, glad you like the header on my blog. Thos Matilia poppies are incredible. I got those pictures at the San Francisco Botanical Garden...just lucky to catch such a good shot of the bee and flower!

Mim said...

Live version best - good stuff but yes...the message - yikes. it certainly ain't a fair world is it?

Chrisy said...

Always good to hear somebody different...thought provoking...now re the dope, can you eat it in cookies or muffins or something...it's the smoking it that's the real problem...so pleased tho that it's helping you...whatever it takes I say...