Strafing the cutting edge of Latin music

Raining In Paradise

Manu Chao is a soccer fan. He’s insane about it, to the point of rooting for Brazil, not his native France, in the final of the 1998 World Cup.

“I want Brazil to win, but if France wins it’s OK, because it’ll be a slap in the face to all those racist fuckers in power,” he told me days before that final. “On  the other hand, look at the French team: Zidane, Henry, Vieira. All immigrants, from all races. If they win the World Cup, it’ll be a symbol that, with immigrants, we can benefit as a country… and we can kick the soccer world’s ass, too.”

France won in 1998, but Brazil and Italy won the two subsequent World Cups. If that didn’t suck enough, today France has a new president who, well, let’s just say he ain’t no Zidane.

Not that this matters too much to Manu, who’s warming up for the big tour that will happen alter he releases La Radiolina, his first solo album since 2001’s Proxima Estacion: Esperanza. And perhaps it was that soccer-fan spirit that kept hands up, bodies shaking, and joints burning at Austin’s Stubb’s a couple of weeks ago. But Manu’s world is not a stoner’s world. It’s more like a joint on the right, a Red Bull on the left, and a T-shirt with Che on one side and Marley on the other.

It was such a fast and hard-driving party that, even though he performed two encores, he didn’t get around to playing two of his biggest hits (“Sr. Matanzas” and “Santa Maradona”). And no one noticed.

He talked little, and played a lot. But when he did speak he was clear and wasted no time.

He dedicated “Me gustas tu” and “Welcome to Tijuana” to “those who are dangerous for the future of our kids, those who fight violence with more violence, those who fight violence with Guantánamo”.

The September release of La Radiolina is the musical equivalent of a rubber match. Clandestino (1998) was his immaculately groovy entrance, but while the follow-up kept the groove going, it but didn’t go beyond. And the rash talk started.

Fito Paez, one of Argentina’s top rockers, denied ever saying “I don’t like the fact that a Frenchman carrying 16 credit cards comes and tells us what it means to be a Latin American.”

“It was all an invention by a Chilean journalist,” Fito once told me, before adding “Manu is OK. For the beach he’s OK” (a backhanded compliment that makes me suspect he may not have made the infamous insult, but nonetheless has Manu up his ass).

When I tell Manu this, he ignores Fito and looks at the big picture.

“Look,” he said to me on the phone from Los Angeles, days before coming to Austin and sounding just like Barack Obama (the “look” part). “When you’re a public person you’re exposed to exaggerated adulations and also criticisms. It’s always positive to listen to everything and then do your own internal analysis of what you’re doing. And I have people around me to tell me if I fucked up. I do my balance not every year, but every night when I go go to bed. And I sleep well knowing that my day was honest.”

All that matters for Manu is that his music reflects what he calls “Malegria” (roughly translated as “sad happiness”). Things look bleak, but we gotta keep on dancing and bitching. His new single, “Rainin’ In Paradize,” a fierce rocker that can be downloaded for free at, is the soundtrack of a world in pain. And this time, even the rich white guys are trembling.

“That song travels around some of the suffering points, but there’s a lot more,” he said. “For a long time, the First World thought it was saved from the problems affecting the Thirld World. But now even in the First World, paradises are falling, it also rains there. Problems are global and the tragedias caused by the First World in the Third World are sending their feedback”.

And in the middle of all that, art keeps the flame alive.

“We have to remain optimistic. What other choice do we have? But it’s very clear: if we look at the world with a little bit of lucidity, for the next 10 or 15 years there’s going to be a storm.”

LAMC GOES GLOBAL: The 8th annual Latin Alternative Music Conference returns to New York City on July 10-14, featuring panelists Nic Harcourt and Ariana Morgenstern (KCRW in Santa Monica), Leila Cobo (Billboard), Gabriel Abaroa (president of LARAS, the Latin Recording Academy), Joselo (Café Tacuba), producer Andres Levin (Yerba Buena, Los Amigos Invisibles), and many others, as well showcases by Mexico’s Café Tacuba, Zoé and Chetes, the Bronx’s Pacha Massive, Puerto Rican rapper La Sista, and Barcelona’s The Pinker Tones. The concerts will take place at Central Park’s Summerstage, Brooklyn’s prospect Park and various NYC clubs. This year, LAMC will also have floating editions in Mexico City (September 7) and Buenos Aires (September 21-23).

My advice for SA bilingual artists, labels, fans and promoters: Check it out, come back, and move the meat. More info is available on

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