MANU CHAO 12 Titles
One day here, the next one there. From Barcelona to Buenos Aires. From Budapest to Rodez. From Australia to Italy. Manu Chao, it's not a surprise, never stops. He's all over the world, from small venues to big ones, playing for 500 or 70,000 people. However, since 2009, when he released his double live album Baionarena, news has been scarce. At a recent stop in Paris (while all his albums are being reissued by Because Music), and just before embarking for India, he stopped and agreed to talk to us about where he's at. So, what's up? On his website, one can see that Manu is still performing a lot. But these days, he plays with La Ventura instead of Radio Bemba. It's a smaller band (three musicians at the start, then four: Manu, Madjid, Philippe, and Gambeat). "With Radio Bemba, we're seven or eight on stage, it's a big thing," explains Manu. "But we're used to playing in bars with Madjid, just the two of us. And we decided to simply add Philippe on drums. But we missed Gambeat too much, so we asked him to join in. With so few people, human relations are stronger. It's the tightest team I've had in my whole life. That's what I call happiness." Going on the road this way is a real challenge for the singer: "I always feel like I have to escape the humdrum: that's the story of my life. And such a band gives you danger. Three or four musicians, that's the ultimate challenge for a rock band. You just can't hide behind anybody. You must give all you have during two hours and a half. Everybody's naked! So we've been working a lot on vocal parts. As musicians, we felt the exercise very beneficial." Sharpened, full of energy, in real life and on stage. Manu's bouncing, always moving. But he also knows how to step back and be funny. "Playing in such a small band made us find out if we were good," says Manu with a smile on his face. "And I'm confirming now, in all modesty, that I am a real musician. What I also discovered is that we have a great catalogue of songs! We're not three or four on stage but 500, 5000 or 50,000. Everybody knows what we play, wherever we play." Every time they go out, the same idea prevails: "we try to put on a real party. That's what the songs are made for." And they take as much pleasure as they give: "that's the main goal" he says. And he knows how to achieve this: "the members of the band must feel comfortable financially, so they can take time for a real family life. It's the best way to keep things fresh. If you always tour, it becomes a routine and that's not good." Always this need of fighting the humdrum. And his only luxury is to not endure long winters. So, travelling is great. "Well, I travel to meet people. For a long time now, and maybe even more for the past years, I've been listening to cultures. Wherever I go, I'm interested in what people listen to, in what they sing and eat, in how they live and party, in their joys and sorrows." Manu is truthful to his world citizen reputation, a globetrotting singer and philosopher. "I've got the feeling I've managed to build something, links and teams in different places of the world, from the Balkans to Argentina. Teams that are based upon work and friendship. Everybody's giving as much as he can. I think it's the true definition of a band." And what about Radio Bemba then? "We'll get back to it one day, but not today." Today, La Ventura, tomorrow, maybe Radio Bemba. And what about a new album? "I've got loads of songs in my pocket, I'm always writing, but it's too soon to talk about an album. For now, I don't know where it's going to take me." It only takes three clicks on the computer he's always carrying to hear a few snippets of music. "There's some varied stuff here, like a Portuguese album for instance. And also an instrumental album I'm really fond of, just music and whistles. And of course, there's still this project of a rumba record. The songs are ready, but for this one, I want to work the old-fashioned way, to record in a real studio. Well, that's great because the three other musicians love it." Manu has been talking about this record for a long time, as if he needed to go back to his roots. And it's not a coincidence. Because rumba is the music of Barcelona, where he lives and settles for a while every year. "The neighbourhood life is essential. I know I won't be able to change the world, but I can change my neighbourhood. Acting local is a great win." And the artist turns into an active and efficient neighbour as soon as he can. Giving guitar lessons to children is one of his many activities when he's at home. "The leading idea is transmission. It's my responsibility, like every adult, whatever his job, to pass on to young generations." And help each other is the other priority: "My friends and I have planted a vegetable garden and we play football three times a week. The garden and football weld the neighbourhood. Then we meet at the bar, where we can talk and idealize. And we're more efficient because we act together and we mean it." Because Spain is in the middle of a serious crisis, Manu's words and actions are even more vital: "It's important to have a neighbourhood life, and some friends you can rely on. Thanks to all this, these little things that might look trivial, there's some joy of life left."
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