CULTURE

Bigger than ever, Manu Chao returns to capital

Back exactly a year after his last appearance here, latin-reggae artist Manu Chao, whose music has crossed over into the mainstream in recent years, will head down to one of the summer’s concert hot-spots, Freattyda Beach in Piraeus, for his latest Greek appearance this Saturday night. Weeks earlier, the Swiss-based Jamaican reggae pioneer Lee «Scatch» Perry, currently enjoying popularity as part of a wider reggae renaissance, had ushered in this summer’s concert season at the beach with one of his most astute students, Mad Professor. Later this month, the internationally popular British electronica duo the Chemical Brothers will also head toward the port’s concert spot for one show on June 18, the act’s first here. Returning to Chao, the Spanish-Frenchman’s performance here last summer coincided with the release of his second solo album, «Proxima Estacion: Esperanza,» which further consolidated the artist’s position as a top-selling act, particularly around Europe and Latin America, after their infectious home-produced solo debut in 1998, «Clandestino,» had made significant inroads. That album’s single, «King of Bongo Bong» – a milder remake of the song’s raunchier original version that had appeared on an album by Chao’s previous band Mano Negra – was a big radio and club hit, with rare universal appeal. Quite remarkably, «Me Gustas Tu,» the single lifted from «Proxima Estacion: Esperanza» took on even greater commercial proportions. Yet despite his enormous commercial success, Chao has steered clear of pop glamour, choosing a sociopolitical stance instead. These days he is one of pop music’s most committed anti-globalization advocates. Years earlier, Chao had unleashed his sociopolitical ideas publicly as frontman of Mano Negra, whose scintillating fusion of rock, rap, reggae, ska and punk led to a frenetic style which the band dubbed «patchanka.» After making considerable musical impact around continental Europe, including Greece where Mano Negra had played a decade ago, the group took off on a wild, politically tinged adventure to offbeat Latin American territories. As part of a wider effort in support of the underprivileged, Mano Negra, named in honor of an Andalucian anarchist group, took along a French theater group to various South American ports, offering free music and theater performances to locals. During this period, the group also took a Colombian train route heading inland from a port in the country’s north to the centrally located capital, Bogota, offering free shows outside stations along the way. The adventure was documented in a book titled «Un Train de feu et de glace» (A Train of Fire and Ice) by Chao’s father, Ramon Chao, a well-known Spanish writer. Not surprisingly, much of Mano Negra’s activity was approached in ramshackle fashion, without the advice of a manager, which Chao has said was intentional band policy intended to protect its independence from external forces. The move partly explains Mano Negra’s failure to break into foreign mainstream circuits at the time, especially in the heavily streamlined US and UK markets. But Chao’s considerable success as a solo artist has shed light on his worthwhile earlier work with Mano Negra and generated posthumous album sales for the defunct band. Chao’s first band, Les Hot Pants, a rockabilly act, has also been unraveled. Set to perform in Greece for the third time, including his visit with Mano Negra, Chao will arrive from a tour through Eastern Europe. Fans acquainted with the artist through his more recent solo albums of mostly languid material ought to keep in mind that Chao ignites on stage, as he used to during Mano Negra’s patchanka days.