…proxima estacion… ESPERANZA
Manu Chao has been steadily building a worldwide fanatic following over the last fifteen years or so, but he’s virtually unknown in the US, outside a stint as frontman for Mano Negra in the early ’90s. While Chao, of somewhat Meditarrenean origins, can and does sing in English, songs in French, Spanish, Arabic and combinations thereof seem to have a hard time over here.
Nonetheless, his talent is remarkable, and has been from the start. Mixing together a dizzying variety of international styles, idioms, and languages, Chao’s songs are positively magnetic, and have accumulated a mighty charge since 1999’s Clandestino. The music is in constant motion, while melody is catchy without being insistent. But it’s his lyrics — should you speak one of Chao’s many languages — and gravelly vocal personality that graduate Chao from the kiddie table and have him dining with Uncle Marley and Cousin Strummer. Manu Chao manages to draw attention to human conditions without being too political about it, without attacking ideological entities or abstract concepts. Whether he’s addressing social decay or broken hearts, Chao seems to challenge the listener to do something about it, in the here and now.
Stylistically, Esperanza follows trends established in Clandestino including a couple of riffs that are lifted verbatim from the previous album and given new vocal tracks. “Mr. Bobby,” a tribute to Uncle Marley, takes one of these small musical gems and features Chao at his Marliest, from the plaintive vocal cries to the noddy reggae feel. “Promiscuity” sounds an awful lot like Mano Negra’s “Magic Dice,” but this in no way affects the sheer fun vibe of this short ska ditty. To complement the particular Chaoism of re-using riffs (a true Jamaican tradition), a lot of the songs are seamlessly blended, so that the recurring chorus of “La Primavera” becomes the introduction of “Me Gustas Tu” (which is currently stomping all the pasty white Anglos on the European charts).
Esperanza is so well-made, it’s guaranteed to be the summer soundtrack for many, as its tone is so fresh and vital that it’s easy to let it play over and over and over. Hey Chao, pass the yams!