It was the final set of the second day at Jodhpur RIFF. The crowd at the Zenana courtyard within Mehrangarh Fort
would soon be hit by the effervescence of Manu Chao. The Latin alt musician one of the finest names to represent rock n roll on a global stage dived into an upbeat rhumba
as he entered the stage with his four piece band Manu Chao
This was Chaos maiden gig in India and soon enough,the 51-year-old musician was beating his bare chest with the microphone for rhythm,an act that had the energy going through the roof with his punk-meets-reggae-meets-blues music,with Madjid Fahems guitar pulling off some interesting fast flatpicking. The gig turned out to be one of the best that RIFF has seen in its seven-year run. The excitement ballooned with every song Chao sang in a variety of Latin languages that told stories of war,solidarity and conversations with his father.
Its hard to believe then,when Chao says later,I am a shy guy and always get scared before getting on the stage. He is world famous for his left-leaning explicit political views. But he insists he has always been averse to being the centre of attention. Music has been my therapy to fight all the awkwardness, says Chao,who also performed at Blue Frog in Mumbai on October 22 and 23.
Growing up in suburban Paris,José-Manuel Thomas Arthur Chao listened to Latin American music his father played. Music on the streets taught him the art of synergising genres. Then there were truck loads of Lou Reed numbers that taught him English. In a music career that began with busking at 18,Chao went on to form a band called Mano Negra that set sail in a cargo ship with a small stage and performed at South American docks. Later,in the early 90s,the musician put in all his money to buy an old train to travel through war-torn Columbia,performing free shows in villages,where the audience included drug peddlers and guerrillas.
We had great adventures there. I feel the real border is between the city and the countryside and everything changes when you play for the country folk. There was so much violence that we had to negotiate to do free shows. It was a fulfilling experience, says Chao,who also recorded with the inmates of a psychiatric asylum in
Mexico. Injustice hurts. As a musician,youve got access to the microphone,which means a lot of people can hear you. So it is my responsibility to speak up, he says.
Chao sings in French,Spanish,English,Italian,Arabic,Portuguese and Galician,and his songs are redolent with political overtones (his album Clandestino was about music changing the world and siding with the marginalised). But how does the message reach the people? A song has various ways to be expressed and understood. When I write a song,I need to understand it. After that people can interpret it the way they want to. You just have to be careful to understand your own song. Sometimes it can just be the vibe; words dont matter, he says .