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Manu Chao in Toronto...


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he and his band are great, saw them a month ago and loved it. it's not for everyone, it can get repetitive, but i enjoyed it very very much. such a fun show. no horns when i saw him, which was disappointing. but i was trying to compare the current Radio Bemba band to a past band, and that's not all that fair.

Manu Chao sings in French, Spanish, Arabic, Galician, Portuguese, English, and Wolof, often mixing them in the same song. His music has many influences: rock, French chanson, Iberoamerican salsa, reggae, ska, and Algerian raï. These influences were obtained from immigrants in France, his Iberian relations, and foremost his travels in Mesoamerica as a wandering nomad following the disbanding of Mano Negra.

Many of Chao's lyrics are about love, living in ghettos and immigration, and often carry a left-wing message. This reflects Chao's own political leanings—he is very close to the Zapatista movement, whose public spokesman, Subcomandante Marcos, is sampled heavily on Radio Bemba Sound System, and is openly critical of the Bush administration in the US. He has many followers among the European left and the anti-globalization movement.

Chao is also notable for his tendency to reuse music or lyrics from previous songs to form new songs. The hit single "Bongo Bong," in contemporary French style, takes its lyrics from the earlier Mano Negra hit "King of the Bongo," which owes more to The Clash. The musical backdrop for "Bongo Bong," in turn, was used in several other Chao songs, including "Je ne t'aime plus" from the same album and "Mr Bobby" and "Homens" from Próxima Estación: Esperanza. The music from that album's "La Primavera" is used in several other songs on that album, while lyrics for a few songs on Sibérie m'était contéee are repeated several times with different music, leading the lyrics to be interpreted in various ways depending on the mood of the track. Several musical themes and clips from that album also appear on Amadou & Mariam's Chao-produced Dimanche à Bamako, which were being produced at approximately the same time.

Though Manu Chao is one of the world's best selling artists, he is less well-known in the English-speaking world. Tours in the United States with Mano Negra never led to much success in that country, and Chao seems inclined to focus his efforts in Europe and Latin America, where his musical style finds its roots. Though his live performances in the US are exceedingly rare, Chao played a handful of dates in that country in 2006, including a headlining spot at Lollapalooza 2006. His final appearance on his 2006 U.S. tour was a benefit concert in the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn, New York on August 7th. In front of a jubilant, sweaty crowd, Chao performed a three and a half hour set that included an hour of encores. He will return to that venue in the summer of 2007 for two concerts, part of the multicultural "Celebrate Brooklyn" concert series.

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