Review: Austin City Limits with Manu Chao

Austin City Limits “Manu Chao”
Friday, Jan. 30, at 11 p.m.
Preview the show at austincitylimits.org

Though not a common name in households whose primary language is English, Manu Chao  is one of the world’s bestselling musicians in the vaguely-monikered “Latin alternative” movement. A truly multicultural artist, Chao’s work combines punk rock, salsa, reggae, ska, French chanson and Algerian raï, among other styles, and he’s as likely to sing in Portuguese, Arabic and Wolof as in Spanish, French or English (or some combination of the above). Born in Paris to parents of Basque and Galician origin, Chao grew up in a multilingual household often visited by artists, intellectuals and political activists. As a teen he was entranced by the 70s U.K. punk scene, particularly the Clash, and formed his first band in the mid-80s. With his brother and cousin, Chao moved on to the ambitious, wildly eclectic Mano Negra, with whom he signed to Virgin Records, toured Europe and the Americas, had a French hit single “Mala Vida,” and went top 5 in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. After Mano Negra’s demise, Chao drifted around South America with his guitar and a 4-track recorder, researching and absorbing the roots music of his heritage. His solo career launched in 1998 with the award-winning album Clandestino, followed in 2001 by the European hit Próxima Estación: Esperanza. In 2006, Chao set about conquering America, with tours that culminated in well-received sets at the 2006 Lollapalooza and 2007 Coachella festivals. We’ve been chasing after him for a couple of years, and now, in alignment with the release of his latest album La Radiolina and his appearance at the 2008 Austin City Limits Music Festival, we’re pleased to finally showcase this unique artist live from Studio 6A.

- Michael Toland

About the Reviewer: Michael Toland is manager of national productions for KLRU and contributes music reviews to several online and print publications.