Manu Chao born José-Manuel Thomas Arthur Chao on June 21, 1961) is a French singer of Spanish descent. He sings in French, Spanish, English, Italian, Galician, Arabic and Poruguese and occasionally in other languages. Chao began his musical career in Paris, busking and playing with groups such as Hot Pants and Los Carayos, which combined a variety of languages and musical styles. With friends and his brother Antoine Chao, he founded the band Mano Negra in 1987, achieving considerable success, particularly in Europe. He became a solo artist after its breakup in 1995, and since then tours regularly with his live band, Radio Bemba.

Early years and Mano Negra

Heavily influenced by the UK rock scene, particularly The Clash, The Jam and Dr. Feelgood, Chao and other musicians formed the Spanish/English rockabilly group Hot Pants in the mid-1980s. The group released a demo entitled "Mala Vida" in 1984, which received plenty of local critical praise but otherwise gained them little attention. By the time the group released their first album in 1986 the Parisian alternative music scene had taken flight, and Manu, his brother Antoine Chao, and friends such as Alain from Les Wampas formed Los Carayos to incorporate this sound with the rockabilly and punk styles of Hot Pants. Los Carayos remained a side project of the artists for eight years, releasing three albums in the first two years followed by a final album in 1994.

In 1987, the Chao brothers and their cousin Santiago Casariego founded the multiracial band Mano Negra. Starting on a smaller label, the group released a reworked version of the Hot Pants single "Mala Vida", which quickly became a hit in France. The group soon moved to Virgin Records, and their first album Patchanka was released the following year. Though the group never gained much fame in the English-speaking market, popularity throughout the rest of the world soon followed, reaching the Top #5 in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. The band achieved some fame in South America with 1992's Cargo Tour, where it played a series of shows in port cities, performing from a stage built into their tour ship's hold. Mano Negra also performed a tour through much of Colombia in a retired train, the "Ice Express". Still, rifts began to grow among band members during the port tour and the following year's train tour; many band members, including Manu's brother Antoine, had left the group by the end of 1994. Following that year's release of their final album, Casa Babylon, Manu Chao moved the band to Madrid, but legal problems with former band mates led Chao to disband the group in 1995.

Mano Negra's sound is mostly characterized by energetic, lively rhythms, symbolized by the title of their first album, Patchanka, derived from the word pachanga (which is a colloquial term for "party"), and a distinct informality which allows the audience to get involved and feel close to their sound. Mixed music genres are present throughout their albums. Manu Chao is friends with Gogol Bordello and that group has covered Mano Negra's song "Mala Vida" on their own and with Chao beginning in 2006.

Solo years with Radio Bemba

After arriving in Madrid, Chao and other band mates from Mano Negra formed a new group, Radio Bemba Sound System (named for the communication system used in the Sierra Maestra by the Castro-and-Guevara-led rebels in the Cuban Revolution), featuring groups from diverse backgrounds, such as Mexican Tijuana No!, Brazilian Skank, and Argentinian Todos Tus Muertos. The goal was to replicate the sound of street music and bar scenes from a variety of cultures; to that end, Chao and the group spent several years travelling throughout South and Central America, recording new music as they went. The resulting music differed drastically from Mano Negra; the songs were primarily sung in Spanish with far fewer French tracks and the musical style had shifted from punk and alternative styles to the street vibe Chao was aiming for. The songs were collectively released as Clandestino in 1998, under Manu Chao's own name. Though not an instant success, the album gained a steady following in France with hits such as "Bongo Bong" and "Clandestino", and the album eventually earned the Best World Music Album award in 1999's Victoires de la Musique awards. It sold in excess of 5 million copies.

Chao's second album with Radio Bemba Sound System, Próxima Estación: Esperanza, was released in 2001. This album, named after one of the Madrid metro station stops (the title translates to "next station: Hope"), features similar sounds to Clandestinobut with heavier Caribbean influences than the previous album. The album was an instant hit, leading to a successful tour that resulted in the 2002 live album Radio Bemba Sound System. Two years later, Chao returned to his French roots with the French-only album Sibérie m'était contée, which included a large book featuring lyrics to the album and illustrations by Jacek Wo?niak.

Manu Chao's next album La Radiolina (literally "little radio" in Italian, but also "pocket radio") was released on September 17, 2007. This was the first international release since 2001's Próxima Estación: Esperanza. "Rainin in Paradize" was the first single from the album, available for download on his website before the release of the album. Concert reviews indicate that music from La Radiolina was already being performed live as early as April 2007's Coachella show.

Other works

In 2003 he approached Amadou & Mariam and later produced their 2004 album Dimanche à Bamako ("Sunday in Bamako"). His song "Me llaman Calle", written for the 2005 Spanish film Princesas, earned that film a Goya nomination for Best Original Song. It has been released in 2007's La Radiolina. Vocals from the song are included in the Go Lem System song "Calle Go Lem". Time magazine named "Me Llaman Calle" one of The 10 Best Songs of 2007, ranking it at #8. Writer Josh Tyrangiel observed,

Chao's warm singing over José Manuel Gamboa and Carlos Herrero's leaping Flamenco counter melody creates a direct emotional line to the core of this mid-tempo ballad. With its easy melody and universal rhythm Me Llaman Calle walks proudly in the shadow of Bob Marley, the last guy who made world music this disarmingly simple.

His song "La Vida Tómbola" was featured in the documentary film Maradona by Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica. Manu Chao and Tonino Carotone performed the theme song "La Trampa" for the short-lived improvisational comedy Drew Carey's Green Screen Show.

The songs "Bongo Bong" and "Je ne t'aime plus", which appear back-to-back on Clandestino, were covered by British singers Robbie Williams and Lily Allen, who recorded them as a single track, "Bongo Bong and Je Ne T'aime Plus" and released it as a single from the album Rudebox.