Manu Chao is a French solo artist who was born to Spanish parents on June 21, 1961. He sings in French, Spanish, Galician, English, Arabic, and Portuguese, often mixing several languages in the same song. With his brother Antoine Chao and some friends, he founded the band Mano Negra in 1987. He became a solo artist after its breakup in 1995. His debut solo album was called “Clandestino” (Virgin, 1998) and this was followed by “Próxima Estación: Esperanza” in 2001.
Manu Chao was born in Paris to Spanish parents: his mother from Bilbao in the Basque country and his father from Vilalba in Galicia. They emigrated to Paris to avoid Francisco Franco’s dictatorship —Manu Chao’s grandfather had been sentenced to death. Shortly after Manu Chao’s birth, the Chao family moved to the outlying suburbs of Paris, and Manu Chao spent most of his childhood in Boulogne-Billancourt and Sèvres. As he grew up he was surrounded by many artists and intellectuals, most of whom were acquaintances of his father. His music has many influences: punk, rock, French chanson, Iberoamerican salsa, reggae, ska, and Algerian raï. These influences were obtained from immigrants in France, his Iberian connections, and foremost his travels in Mesoamerica as a nomad following the disbanding of Mano Negra. Many of Manu Chao’s lyrics talk about immigration, love, living in ghettos and drugs, and often carry a left-wing message.
Though Manu Chao is quite well-known in Europe and Latin America, he has not had the same success in the English-speaking world. Tours in the United States with Mano Negra were not as successful as elsewhere and Manu Chao seems inclined to focus his efforts in the places where his musical style finds its roots. Though his live performances in the U.S. are exceedingly rare, Manu Chao played a handful of dates there in 2006, including a headlining show at Lollapalooza 2006 in Chicago. Two of his best known tracks are “Bongo bong” and “Me gustas tú”.
Watch some Manu Chao videos with lyrics:
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