by Lew Herman
The Deal: If it wasn't for Manu Chao, there wouldn't be any Latin Alternative. Originally influenced by The Clash, then Bob Marley, he's since become the world's best known musical activist, vagabond and ex-Europunk, unknown in the U.S., though making inroads now via festival appearances at Coachella and Bonnaroo. His newest recording is a mammoth live appearance in Bayonne, France, in typical Manu manner: explosive, exuberant, playful and breathless. It's a long, double CD with an added DVD, featuring the entire concert, videos from earlier CDs and brief documentary footage.
The Good: Featuring incredible backup musicians, the Radio Bemba Sound System, the ensemble is a French/Spanish version of a Springsteen concert. Like Springsteen, Manu's songs are for the masses, featuring classics "Welcome to Tijuana," "Clandestina" and Rainin' in Paradise". His songs are simple, repetitive, pure and powerful. Like a modern day Woody Guthrie, his guitar kills fascists. Add some Isely Brothers – think "Shout Parts 1 and 2" – and you get a powerful mix of music, message and theater. And there's rhythm. An abundance of Latin rhythms influenced by roots, punk, reggae and found sounds.
The Bad: Maybe too intense, maybe too long, the fast paced, double-time rhythms leave you breathless and makes you think polka instead of punk.
The Verdict: Hardly a bad track – dance along and the delirium is contagious. No denying his power, street cred and charisma. He sings in Spanish, French, Arabic and English, sometimes in one song. Doesn't matter what language he uses as his music is of the people and for the people.