Manu Chao is Spanish and French. He writes and sings in Spanish and French, but also English, Portuguese, and Arabic. He makes music that is part reggae and punk rock. And tomorrow he releases a new album called "La Radiolina." The World's Marco Werman has today's Global Hit.
Manu Chao is a musician with a mission. He wants to remind his listeners that the world these days is a crazy place. To do that, the singer-songwriter has a quivver of well-intentioned and catchy songs.
"Politic Amagni" is a tune Manu Chao wrote a couple of years ago for Amadou and Mariam, the blind husband and wife duo from Mali. Manu Chao felt strongly enough about that song that he adapted it for his first solo album in six years.
Here it takes the Pidgin English title "Politik Kills."
Those lines amount to something of a mantra that Manu Chao has been intoning since the 80s.
Chao's left-wing politics emerged with his first band Mano Negra. The band broke up.
But its loyal followers still see Manu Chao and Mano Negra as the heir apparent to the punk-ska vibe of the Clash, with a similarly fed-up world view.
Manu Chao has been solo since 1995. And since then he's been something of a one-man rapid reaction force, dealing with the evils of the world. One day he's getting street children in Brazil to perform in their own circus.
The next, Chao might show up at an anti-globalization rally alongside French farmer JosÃ© BovÃ©, the anti-corporate food activist. And, Manu Chao has been open about his dislike of President George Bush.
When I asked him recently if that was the reason he's played so rarely in the U.S. in recent years, his first impulse was to talk about the strains of being on the road.
Manu Chao: "We never do tours more than one month and a half. When the tours are too long, the routine gets in the tour, and routine is the worst enemy of music."
Manu Chao - photo: Marco Werman
But it didn't take much to get Manu Chao talking about the U.S. in the world today. His response was more Alexis de Tocqueville than placard-waving anti-American protestor.
Manu Chao: "Now for me it was really quite important to come here and to understand and to understand how is this country now. I'm from the outside. And from the outside the United States, we criticize a lot actually what is doing the government of the USA. There's really a reaction, an anti-gringo...
Manu Chao:"...anti-American. But when I criticize something, I really need to understand what I'm criticizing. And it's really important to separate what is the government of United States and what is the people of the United States."
Manu Chao's songs are different from his discourse. In the loopy, multi-lingual lyrics of the song "Tristeza Maleza," Manu Chao calls out President Bush by name, and cautions him that the world is watching his every move.
Manu Chao's has just completed his longest tour ever in the U.S. And he spoke about that trip almost as if he were discovering America for the first time...a nation that didn't seem so foreign to him.
Manu Chao:"We all done all the tour by bus. Met a lot of friends all around the tour, so it was really interesting for that. See really wonderful places, the nature. Sometime we stopped in the desert, we made some fire there, we'd drink some mescal there, we'd smoke some joints. It was perfect."
Marco:"So what's changed for you on this tour then? What have you learned?"
Manu Chao:"I made up my mind a little bit more that there's a big difference between what is the politic of the government and what is the people living here. Because living in the United States there's the whole world. A lot of people from the whole world living here. And that's the message I want to bring back to the neighborhoods there, where there's a kind of radical anti-American feeling, just because of the government."
One thing Manu Chao says he doesn't understand about America is why people here still pay so little attention to the outside world.
Manu Chao: "For example, when we're touring in United States, when we're watching TV in the hotels, you zap, zap, zap, zap, only American Tvs. When we tour in other countries, you go to the hotel, you watch TV, and you can find TV from the country, but also TV from America, TV from France, from Italy, so you can make up your mind better. So I'm afraid lot of Americans don't know what their government is doing outside. That is really negative."
"Rainin in Paradize" is the single from his new CD.
Marco:"What is the song about? What is the single about?"
Manu Chao:"I think it's a little snapshot of how goes the world actually. Not very happy snapshot. I talk about a few places in the planet where there's points of fever and violence. But if I want to talk about all the spots where there's problems, my song would be half an hour. I'd have to reduce."
Of all the things Manu Chao continues to observe and write about around the world, the musician's most enlightening comments are about...age. After all, this summer Manu Chao's rubbed shoulders with American youth at festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. And as the 46 year-old musician pointed out, America and the first world aren't getting any younger.
Manu Chao: "The youth is not anymore in the first world. It's outside. And maybe the first world is getting old, and it's getting scared."
Despite his keen eye for what's going on around him, Manu Chao's new release has not slayed the critics. Some have said the sound is classic Manu Chao and has not really evolved. Still, it's always refreshing to hear a musician who can turn the global class struggle into earth shaking global pop.
For The World, I'm Marco Werman.