Manu Chao is one of the most popular musicans in the world, but you wouldn’t know it living in the United States or Canada. I first heard of him during a vacation to Peru and Bolivia many years ago, and he’s hugely popular in Mexico, too, where I lived for a couple of years after that.
His Basque and Galician parents fled Spain under Franco’s regime, and Chao was born and grew up in France. He travelled extensively in Central and South America, incorporating sounds and politics from those places in his music and being embraced as something of a musical Che Guevara in the process, delving into political themes in his songs. Some sample clips of Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatistas, the Chiapas rebels in Mexico.
He sings in English, Spanish, French, among others, often all in the same song, possibly explaining why he’s never broken into the US/Canada market in any significant way – we didn’t embrace Shakira until she released an all-English album, either.
Here’s a few of his songs culled from YouTube:
As you can tell from the video, this one’s written from the perspective of an illegal immigrant. (“To a city of the north / I went to work / I left my life / Between Ceuta and Gibraltar / I’m a line in the sea / A ghost in the city / My life is forbidden / So says the authority.”)
Enjoy the hilariously cheesy animation. The title means “disappeared.” (“I carry in my body a motor / that’s always running and alive / I carry in my soul a destination / but I never will arrive.”)
Me Gustas Tu
The lyrics are silly and sweet, and as a special treat for you guys, the video has a pretty woman dancing around in her bra. (“I like airplanes, I like you / I like to travel, I like you / I like the morning, I like you / I like the wind, I like you / I like to dream, I like you / I like the sea, I like you.”)
Bongo Bong/Je ne t’aime plus
“Bongo Bong” is a mellower version of a song he’d done with his former band Mano Negra, here melded with “Je ne t’aime plus” (on his album Clandestino, all the songs blend together). Even if you don’t know French, you probably don’t need me to translate this, but “Je ne t’aime plus mon amour” means “I don’t love you anymore, my love.” And they say women give mixed messages.