Manu Chao

It’s not easy to find the words to win the depression when, back home from our Christmas holiday we found a police notice saying that our house was visited by a burglar. A short walk upstairs to realize that, among other stuff, the laptop went with all its content. I am still waiting for the police to come and see me, yesterday they left me on hold on the phone, after 15 minutes no-one answered and the line closed.

I lived 30 years in Italy and I wasn’t robbed of anything. Recently I forgot my camera-bag full of stuff on a river bank in Nepal among many poor people washing clothes and I found it there half an hour later.
In the last four years in UK I was stolen a bike, a scooter and now the entire house robbed. People still tells me that Italy is a dangerous place to live. I start believing that England is a safe place if you leave it.

By the way. Manu Chao article was planned so let’s see if his upbeat mood helps.
He played two one off shows at the London Forum just before Christmas bringing his “sunny view of life” in a freezing winter night.

Manu Chao is a clever guy. He knows that in UK music and politics do not walk hand in hand through the same path as somewhere else in Europe. He was committed to playing. No propaganda, no slogans. Just a flag covering a Marshall, a “Che” T-shirt wore by the bassist and his music. After all it contains enough politics to need no further decorations to deliver the message.

So, before going through the concert review, let’s do the Manu-Chao-in-England way and split this post in two.

First, allow your political side to come out of the warm and cosy living room where you are reading this and join me and thousands more people for the march from Hyde Park to Israel Embassy tomorrow and anytime it will happen until the Palestinians’ carnage stops.
If you are not in London google to see if something is happening in your area, it is likely it will. Palestine need your physical presence and support. Forget Facebook groups, online activism is transparent, it doesn’t deliver.

This said, my conscience a bit cleaner, back to music.

The Manu Chao who played the Forum isn’t the same guy who played supporting the No-global movement at the Genoa G8 in 2001 in Italy. There you had the activist. Here you have the musician. There is not right or wrong, just two different gigs.

Few points.
Manu Chao has an impressive passion for what he does, wherever and whichever audience is in front of him.
Manu Chao has an incredible energy that is transferred for almost three hours from his heart to any soul in front of him.
Manu Chao is incredibly coherent. About the things he believes and the life he lives.
Manu Chao is a honest person. If he were a fake, he would be a “Cannes Palm D’or – best actor” winner.

The Forum tonight didn’t look like the march we’ll experience tomorrow. No ONG, no leaflets, no chants (you know, Brits problem with foreign languages), no T-Shirts.
Just Music.

Gipsy music and Italian drama; South America and Africa; Punk, Reggae (and Joe Strummer). That blurred border between Cataluña and France. Internationalism played to the rhythm of a rumba.
Manu Chao music is a fair-trade fruit salad where he plays the sweet and sour role of sugar and lemon, the key to hold different flavours together.

Participating at his gig is like going to a party and sharing a chocolate fondue with your friends.

His is a proper music-therapy. The equivalent of a massive dose of antidepressant without side effects.
Manu Chao is definitely not an agnostic figure but he is indeed diagnostic.
At his concert, whatever you think of the music, if you find yourself standing still, staring at the people dancing around you and don’t feel the need of moving, dancing, jumping around, well my friend, it is time to worry.
Leave aside The National, Frigthened Rabbit, Glasvegas or whatever indie misery you are listening to and seek for a good therapist. You’ve got the blues!

I’m not a doctor, though.
RadioBemba Sound System, which in indie-terms reads as “his band”, tonight is formed by two essential percussionists, a man at the keyboard that enjoys adding trumpet bits, a guitarist able to play everything from Flamenco flamboyant to AC/DC-style solos and a huge bassist which convinces me his mass is essential to keep rhythm at such a relentless level.

Then there is him. An elf with an army hat. Jumping obstinately during all the 31 songs setlist. He has much more energy than the entire bulk of British indie bands I saw in the last 5 years.
He is democratic. He steps asides to leave room to everyone’s show off even when it would be avoidable.
With the added bit of Christmas present for the Londoners. Throughout the first encore the Malian couple (being praised by everyone and produced by him) Amadou & Mariam came on stage to play some songs with (and without him).
Manu Chao invites and incites, you can’t help but being part of the party.

So is everything great? No. What’s the problem? Easy, as any recipe that involve emotions (or fruit salads).

A perfect concert needs the music. Intentions, passion, excitement and even a nice venue are not enough.
Unfortunately Manu Chao lost is grip on writing good music for a decade.

If Mano Negra are an unrepeatable dream of a collective which is not together (and not 20) anymore; I, with a good portion of the Latin world, have been hoping that he would come out with a nice follow-up to that little jewel that was Clandestino his first album dated as back as 1998.
Unfortunately neither the “self-quatationist” second LP Próxima Estación: Esperanza nor the latest La Radiolina came any close to that.

Manu Chao uses always the same recipe. Live it works very well, transferred on CD the songs sound out of date. As a fruit salad left on a table a little bit too long.
Unsurprisingly his best recorded album to date is the live Radio Bemba Sound System.

A performer before a songwriter, catch Manu Chao live and you will spend three of the funniest hours you ever had in front of a stage.
You will come out feeling a younger, lighter, committed traveller.

Don’t put his albums on once at home because the skip-to-next-track syndrome will affect you until the last song. There is nothing exciting to take out of him sitting on a sofa with a remote in your hand.
As there is nothing useful on demonstrating while seated in front of your PC. So folks, move your ass and get to the street to protest against Middle East massacre. Meet you there.

If you (still) have a laptop, you can check Manu Chao tour dates from his [website] and some of his music from his [myspace], I advised you though.

Photo tip

Back-up your data!

Quite a short tip this time around, at least the burglar had his constructive input. I know it sound obvious but I also know many people having most of their stuff only on hard disks.

Especially if you work on digital do not leave your photos on the HD thinking that you are plenty of time and you’ll cope with it sooner or later. Later is a very dangerous option.

I work on film, so I was relatively lucky. Thousands of scans are gone for good, but mine it is only a time damage. I have the negatives and will need to spend hours converting them into digital, again!
If there were digital files (actually there were a few) they’d be lost. Last things photographers want is losing their photos!

~ by Valerio on January 9, 2009.

12 Responses to “Manu Chao”

  1. I am so sorry to hear about the burglary! That is awful!

    I just wanted you to know that your blog inspired me to try something new. I just started reading very recently, after the new year. And while I’ve done quite a bit of photography in other areas, I’ve never done any live music work.

    That changed tonight! Nothing big. Just an intimate little night club with a very photographer-friendly singer/songwriter by the name of Jason Adamo. The venue was lit with the dreaded dim red lights. Jason didn’t mind me using flash occasionally (I asked before the show started) so I got a good mix of ambient and flash lit shots. I used a Canon EOS Rebel G 35mm SLR with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens and Ilford Delta 3200 film (at EI 3200). Without that fast lens I would have had to push it to EI 6400. Looking forward to developing this batch to see what I got.

  2. Well done Magnus, It’s rewarding to be inspirational!
    Small little venues are usually the best to shoot and emerging artists are much more down to earth and happy to be photographed that rockstars…there is not a better place to start and learn.

    By the way, with a 50mm f/1.8 you should be fine pushing a 400 ISO to 800 (as I do) or even try Fuji 1600. I Never liked those 3200 films.


  3. 400 to 800? Wow. At this particular venue, with the lighting they had in place, I was sometimes shooting 1/90 f/1.8 @ 3200! I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going any slower than 1/60 I don’t think. Well now I am eager to develop the film this weekend and see the results.

  4. “All the world is a village”.
    Non è che anche lassù usano questo detto?
    A quando le foto dal Nepal?
    Ma il pugno al cielo… non si alza con la sinistra?
    Perchè fotografi “storto” che mi tocca storcere il capo?
    Tra il serio ed il faceto, ti lascio i miei complimenti per lo scritto e le immagini augurandoti buon fine settimana.
    Ben tornato…. qua e là..

  5. el mundo seria otro si no existieran las capitales, los catalanes, milaneses y yo como cusqueño(PERU) sabemos eso. y ahora al perecer la capital del mundo obviamente es grigolandia y como todas las capitales e imperios nunca estara siquiera cerca o proxima de las guerras, muertes y explotaciones humanas, pero si parecera atractiva a los ojos de todos pues un espejismo de grandeza esperanza y oportunidades de triunfar nos hacen pensar que es el futuro y el lugar a donde pertenecemos cuando en realidad solo pertenecemos a la tierra.
    recomendacion: shallom salam de ZIGGY MARLEY. mucha buena vibra a todos de la banda y MANU CHAO mu sueño es que algun dia vengan a la ciudad perdida del INKA y revivan la energia con su musica.

  6. I like what you wrote…I totally agree and I’m impressed (as usual) by the powerful pictures. Thumbs up

  7. I had never heard of the singer Manu Chao until I was clicking TV channels late on a Friday night and saw on channel 21 there was this musician…..who was very spirited….jumping on stage and putting passion into his work. So I could not understand the words he was singing because I think he was singing in Spanish. The music was so lively and upbeat…I kept the channel on. It sounded Caribbean at first and made me think of in Carib songs when they have the lyrics “jump up, jump up.” This guy’s music makes you feel like jumping up. I wish I knew what the lyrics were…so I looked up on the computer to find out who the singer was. I was surprised on the TV that they didn’t flash his name across the bottom so that folks tuning in would know who this very good singer is. I thought he has a somewhat rough look and I thought maybe he is from the Carib and maybe is from like the Lower East Side part of NYC because of his attire on stage. But hte performance was so lively that I decided to find out who this singer is and what the songs translate in to English as….since I don’t know enough Spanish to figure out the songs. So here I am reading about him on the computer and finding out what kind of guy he is….on the websites they say he is a activist. I find it very cool that he sings in various languages. Great idea and mixing up the languages together to overlap and so forth….is artistic / creative just like poets. So I look forward to one day seeing this guy’s concert hopefully in NYC or somewhere near my part of the world…like in NYC, or Phila or some place in Jersey. And I will look into buying some CDs at the music store and telling my friends about him. Interesting fellow, to say the least. I am glad I came upon Manu Chao on my TV. I think this guy will pick up more attention here in the states….keep playing, and so some songs in English….I think if more songs are in English you will pick up a heck of a lot more fans to join your ranks.

    • Hi Sue,
      it is quite amazing how possible is that Manu Chao is unknown in the States. It must be because of his political activity.
      He is huge in the entire latin world, from Italy to Mexico, from Spain to Brazil, France to Argentina.
      He starts being known in UK and he also toured USA (played a big US festival last year). So I hope you meet him live sometime because is music needs to be experienced only at a live gig. I am pleased you learnt more about him from liveon35mm!

  8. I like what you wrote…I totally agree and I’m impressed (as usual) by the powerful pictures. Thumbs up

  9. “All the world is a village”.
    Non è che anche lassù usano questo detto?
    A quando le foto dal Nepal?
    Ma il pugno al cielo… non si alza con la sinistra?
    Perchè fotografi “storto” che mi tocca storcere il capo?
    Tra il serio ed il faceto, ti lascio i miei complimenti per lo scritto e le immagini augurandoti buon fine settimana.

  10. I like what you wrote…I totally agree and I’m impressed (as usual) by the powerful pictures. Thumbs up

  11. We’ve seen Manu several times in several different formats. Stripped down at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2011, he thumped his mike on his bare chest, heartbeat-style, over and over until he drew blood. Quite a bit of blood. Talk about laying it all out there!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: