The writer and editorial director of the Mexican magazine Replicante, Rogelio Villareal referred to him as “ Un farsante, un baladista con voz de vendedor de tamales”—a farce, a ballad singer with the voice of a tamale vendor— and others find his critique of neoliberalism ineffective, a mere fashion statement for anti-globalization groups and one as relevant as a Che Guevara T-Shirt, or Cameron Diaz’ Maoist handbag. But those who attended Manu Chao’s sold-out shows at Prospect Park in Brooklyn this week either completely disagree with these criticisms, or enjoy Manu Chao and Radio Bemba’s potent multicultural mix of punk, rai and dub so much, that they are willing to ignore his political statements. In between songs, Manu rallied the crowd against the president of the United States, criticized the war in Iraq and reminded people of the events taking place in Guantanamo. He also expressed his solidarity with undocumented immigrants across the world and with the Zapatista movement in Mexico.
Hundreds sang along with the French-Spanish singer and danced euphorically to the energized versions extracted from Manu’s two albums Clandestino and Proxima Estacion Esperanza, as well as old classics from his previous group—Mano Negra. Manu Chao is first and foremost a musician and great entertainer and Radio Bemaba a disciplined musical combo. The relevance of his message depends on those who identify with its content, but everyone seemed to know the words to “Clandestino,” “Desaparecido,” “Welcome to Tijuana,” “Merry Blues” or “Me Gustas Tú” and the crowd cheered when the musician Renzo Ortega from R-Tronika handed Manu a large white banner that read: “Immigrants Are Not Criminals” and the band placed it on stage. The same happened when he reminded “Mr. White House” that violence can only be fought with education and justice.
Manu Chao and Radio Bemba continue to build on the musical amalgamation of global rhythms developed since his days in Mano Negra. His musical offering transcends musical genres and he seems to fearlessly engage the contradictions between modernity and tradition. Manu Chao imagines a different sort of globalization and obviously, his ideal is shared by many others.
Towards the end, Manu Chao dedicated the Mexican classic song by Jose Alfredo Jimenez to all Latin Americans. Soon thereafter as Manu Chao and his band left the stage, an organizer told the crowd that a dangerous thunderstorm was approaching and the show had to end. Shouting in several different languages and pulling the finger too, the crowd refused to leave without another song. The same organizer asked for the crowd’s understanding, but it was too late, the members of Radio Bemba had taken the stage once again, “one last song” he told the crowd and left. A drizzle started with the first notes to “Mala Vida”, which turned into “Bongo Bong” just as the sprinkle turned into a rainstorm that only made people more joyous and energized. A true New York Summer show!