Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of Manu Chao


An inspiration to the world’s downtrodden and dispossessed and a huge star in Latin America where he can draw audiences of 100,000 people, Many Chao’s first solo album, 1998’s Clandestino, sold three million copies.

La Radiolina, Chao’s most recent studio album, has all of his maverick trademarks present in abundance – the Latin melodies and world rhythms, the surreal samples and sense of fun, the street-punk sloganising and the unerring pop sensibility, which led Robbie Williams to cover Clandestino‘s ‘Bongo Bong’. Yet La Radiolina also presents a more expansive sound from Chao than we’ve heard before with the guitars and rock beats very much to the fore.

As with Clandestino and its 2001 follow-up Próxima Estación: Esperanza, La Radiolina was created layer-by-layer by Chao on his laptop. “When I open my computer to record a new song I have an idea but, the result usually comes out totally different. If we come up with something that I didn’t expect that’s what I call a good session,” he says. Parts of the album were mixed by Mario Caldato (Beastie Boys/Beck), although Chao continued to remix the tracks after their collaboration.

“With a computer you never stop remixing. I only stopped now because I wanted to get the record out and do others things,” he says.

La Radiolina came exactly 20 years after Chao first came to prominence with Mano Negra. Born in Paris in 1961 into a Galician family that had fled Spain to escape Franco’s fascist regime, Chao grew up in a multi-cultural community populated by immigrants from north and West Africa.

In the ’70s he discovered the UK rock scene and was inspired first by Dr Feelgood and then the Clash. After the short-lived band Hot Pants, in 1987 he formed Mano Negra, combining a punk rock aesthetic with influences drawn from reggae, Chao’s own Latin roots and the multi-cultural milieu in which he grew up. A deal with Virgin followed but after several acclaimed albums the band split following a legendary tour of war-torn Colombia in 1993. After buying an old train, Chao and his colleagues spent six weeks travelling across the country via a disused rail track, stopping at villages along the route to play impromptu concerts for audiences of peasants, guerrillas and drug traffickers. By the time they reached the capital Bogotá, it was literally the end of the line: only Chao and one other member of the band were left.

By his own account, Chao fell into a deep depression. He took a couple of years off, to travel the world and in the process recorded his solo debut, Clandestino, using a portable tape machine that he carried in his backpack. Released in 1998, it became a worldwide leftfield hit, although Virgin initially refused to release it in the UK and Chris Blackwell snapped it up for his Palm Pictures label, claiming that he saw in Chao many of the qualities that had persuaded him sign Bob Marley almost a quarter of a century earlier. The equally genre-bending Próxima Estación: Esperanza followed in 2001, then the third installment, La Radiolina, in 2007.

Last updated: July 1, 2013