Manu Chao

Manu Chao Biography
Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Manu Chao Biography

José Manuel Arturo Tomás Chao Ortega (June 21, 1961) He was born in Paris, France. Franco-Spanish singer-songwriter considered one of the most versatile and prominent musicians of the 21st century. He began his musical career in the eighties playing in the streets and being part of the bands of Rock Hot Pants (1984) and Los Carayos (1985). In 1987 he created the band Mano Negra with his brother Antoine and his cousin Santiago Casiriego. Together they succeeded in Europe and Latin America during the nineties, being remembered for the themes: Lord Matanza, King Kong Five, Soledad, and Moonrise, among others. He launched as a soloist with the album Clandestino (1998) and later published Next Station … Esperanza (2000). Since then he has performed live with the band Radio Bemba Sound System or Radio Bemba.



Son of journalist Ramón Chao and physicist Felisa Ortega, a couple who emigrated from Spain to France during Franco’s dictatorship. Chao spent his childhood in Boulogne-Billancourt and then moved to Sèvres, where he completed his studies and began to be interested in music and the political context, greatly influenced by his father. During his childhood and adolescence, he related to the various artists and intellectuals with whom his father related, among these he impressed figures such as the writer Alejo Carpentier, the painter Antonio Saura and the politician Felipe González. It was then that he began playing his first percussion instrument, which was given to him by Carpentier.

At age 14 he began to work taking photos in the interviews that his father conducted and later began to mix with the Parisian counterculture environment. Influenced by the punk of the seventies, he began playing with some friends in the streets, bars and abandoned factories of Paris.

In the early 80’s he created the alternative band Hot Pants (1984), with his cousin Santiago and his friends Pascal Borgne and Jean-Marc. In 1985, they recorded their debut single Hot pants, which included the songs: So Many Times and Lover Alone. Then they released the LP Loco Mosquito (1986), under the All or Nothing label. This LP consisted of eleven songs with a marked rockabilly style performed in English and Spanish.

In the late 1980s, he was part of the band Los Carayos (1986), along with François Hadji-Lazaro, Alain Wampas, Robert Fritsch and his brother Antoine. Between 1986 and 1994 they released the albums Hot Girls (1986), Ils Ont Osé! Live (1986), Persistent et Signent (1987) and Au Prix où sont les courges (1994). They were active for several years without having much impact on the Parisian scene. Most of the members worked with other bands at the same time, so they did not take off as a group. Even working with Los Carayos, he decided to create the band that changed the history of alternative rock, Mano Negra.


Mano Negra (1987-1995)

In the late 80’s he created the band Mano Negra with his brother Antoine and his cousin Santiago Casiriego. They began their adventure playing in the Paris subway and in a short time they drew the attention of the public with their characteristic fusion of musical styles, in which they found sounds as distant as Rock, rumba, hip-hop, and salsa. Chao’s lyrics interpreted in different languages ​​(French, Spanish, English, and Arabic) spoke directly to the rebel generation, young people with a political conscience, belonging to social movements and active in the streets.

In June 1988, they released their first album, the album Patchanka (1988), a fusion of African, Latin and native sounds that revolutionized the history of Hispanic rock. This successful album consisted of 14 songs, among which were: Mala Vida, Indios de Barcelona, ​​Takin ’It Up, Lonesome Bop, Rock Island Line and Salga la Luna.

In a short time, the band was seen as one of the most prominent groups of the rock scene of the late ’80s. With this album, they appeared at various festivals and toured various countries in Europe and Latin America. The success of his debut album was surpassed by Puta’s fever (1989), an album that put them on top and opened the doors of the international market with the single King Kong five. Beginning in the 1990s, they launched King of Bongo (1991), work with a marked rock style that was presented during the Iggy Pop tour in the United States. After the tour, they decided to focus their musical interests in Latin America, so, in 1992, they undertook a strange and crazy tour along the coasts of Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, and Santo Domingo, aboard a ship. They also visited Colombia and other countries.

This long journey was collected by Ramón Chao in the book Train of Fire and Ice (1994). The strenuous adventure in various countries exacerbated the tensions already existing among the members of the band, which at that time had about 12 members. After posting Casto Babylon (1994), the band dissolved in the middle of several legal disputes. In the following years, Chao worked with some members of the band under the name of Radio Bemba and later collaborated with other artists making their way as a soloist.



In the late 1990s, he debuted as a soloist with the album Clandestino (1998), a record work that included the hits: Disappeared, Je ne t’aime plus, Luna y Sol, Minha Galera and La Despedida. After several years of silence he released Next station: Esperanza (2001), an album that became a success, thanks to the single, I Like You, one of Chao’s best-known songs. That same year he began his tour with Radio Bemba Sound System and later published his first work with these, entitled Radio Bemba Sound System (2002), live on his tour that included songs published with Mano Negra. In recent years he has published the albums: Sibérie m’était contéee (2004), La Radiolina (2007), Estación México (2008) and Baionarena (2009).

Currently, Chao is seen as one of the most representative artists of the 21st century, not only for his social messages and his vindication to the popular sectors but also for his ability to fuse styles as varied as rock, rumba, ska and hip-hop.


Most Popular

To Top