Manu Chao 3909.indd
WHAT ABOUT CHAO
Most of the world is already on board; it’s high time that Ireland at
large embraced the brilliance of Manu Chao
erformers who sing in Galician or Wolof don’t
dominate radio playlists; recording with the
patients of a psychiatric hospital isn’t a wellworn path to success either. Then again, not
many artists on the planet are quite like Manu Chao.
Examples of his uniqueness – even in the wild world of
music – are easy to find. In 1993, Chao and his group, the
soon-to-be-disbanded Mano Negra, commandeered a
train cobbled together from decommissioned carriages
and travelled across Colombia, accompanied by a full
circus troupe, on a tour of free concerts at stations along
the way. And he brought his journalist father to document
the whole thing.
Sixteen years later, another wild South American project
saw the ‘King of the Bongo’ record an entire album, Viva
La Colifata, in partnership with the Argentinians who run
Radio Loony at the facility of which they are patients.
Even Johnny Cash didn’t get too close to the Folsom Prison
gang, never mind collaborate.
A winsome mix of punk, reggae, Latin and ska – all
bundled together with a pop sensibility – is combined
with a direct, antagonistic politicism rarely seen since the
work of Bob Marley. The heady cocktail has swept around
the world. José-Manuel Thomas Arthur Chao, to give him
his full and proper title, is nothing short of a superstar in
France, where he was born, or in Spain, where his roots lie.
The various adventures across the Atlantic have seen him
enjoy success across Latin America too.
His popularity has stretched to Irish shores to an extent;
he played sold-out shows in what was then The Point,
once while Metallica did their thing in the RDS the very
same night. He also packed them into Phoenix Park in
2007, and the year previous played an early-afternoon
set to a lively and sizeable Oxegen crowd; anybody who
visited Punchestown will know just how much it took
to drag the sore heads out of their tented dwellings any
earlier than teatime.
He traverses languages like a trapeze artist; from French
to Spanish and English to Portuguese.
In a 2003 visit to Dublin, he even told Hot Press’ Danielle
Brigham that he wouldn’t be averse to getting in touch
with his inner Gaeilgeoir. “If tonight I get drunk in
Dublin and inspiration comes, it’s really possible that
the song’s gonna be in English, or even Irish, because the
surroundings are made of these sounds. I travel with my
ears and with my nose as well.”
Despite the acclaim that greeted his seminal album
Clandestino – and the cult following he managed to build –
he remains something of an unknown quantity for many
in Ireland; the international superstar who’s somehow
managed to creep under the radar. His relatively low
profile is in part due to his humble attitude; he’s more
likely to grab a kip on a friend’s floor than in a five-star
hotel, and shuns the showbiz lifestyle for more personal –
and occasionally political – pursuits.
One man who can shed some light on the enigmatic
hero is Dugs Mullooly of Celtic-punk veterans Blood Or
Whiskey. The group had the opportunity to support Chao
on his last Irish visit – and found themselves getting up
close and personal with the star backstage.
“He knocked on our dressing-room door,” Dugs recalls,
“handing us a beautiful bottle of ten-year-old whiskey to
thank us for coming to play with him. We were in pure
awe. He was a really friendly guy; personable, down-toearth, and really happy to be in Ireland.”
Indeed, the gratitude shown towards the Irish act was
genuine; Chao had handpicked them for the date.
“It turns out he would get bands from the local area to
support him wherever he went,” Dugs explains. “In Bilbao,
for instance, it might be Fermin Magaruza from Kortatu,
or another band that he liked himself. He said he loved
our band, and that’s why he requested us. At that time
we'd just released Cashed Out On Culture, and apparently he
had it on his tour bus. Manu’s stuff is extremely political
– standing up for the working man – and we’re the same;
on that album we had lots of songs about injustice in
“I was sitting in our manager’s office when an email
arrived,” he continues. “It said Manu Chao would like us to
play with him. I thought it was someone pulling our leg,
but thought ‘we might as well say yes anyway’. I was a big
fan of his old band, Mano Negra. I had the King Of Bongo
album when I was in school, and loved ‘Out Of Time Man’;
that would feature a lot when I’d make up mixtapes! That’s
why I was blown away, and thought it was a joke.”
The invitation, of course, was very real, but it wouldn’t
have been the first comical misunderstanding centred on
a Chao gig in Dublin. An unsuspecting promoter, so the
legend goes, once underestimated the pulling power of
the performer, and booked Whelan’s for a show. It was only
when the ‘sold-out’ signs appeared immediately that his
levels of stardom became clear.
He’s kept a pretty low profile of late, with 2007’s La
Radiolina his last studio release. That’s part of the reason
why his RHK date is one not to be missed; for another, we
asked the man who watched the last Irish gig from the
side of the stage just what to expect.
“A big party!” Dugs laughs. “Manu’s a phenomenal live
performer and it’s an amazing show. Even though the lyrics
are kind of dark, the music is upbeat and uplifting. That
last time, it was in a tent, because it was November; a nice
summer’s evening this time would be the cherry on top.”
There Is No Concert
If travelling from the City Centre, you
can also walk to the Royal Hospital
It is approx. 30 minute walk from
Pedestrian access will ONLY be permitted
through the East Gate on Military Road.
Take Luas to the concerts in the grounds
of the RHK this week. Travel on the Luas
Red Line and get off at Heuston, the RHK
is just an 8 minute walk from here.
For more info check www.luas.ie/routes
These Dublin Bus routes serve Heuston
Station pprox.. 10 minutes walk to the
25, 25a, 26, 66, 66a, 66b, 67, 69, 79, 79a,
These Dublin Bus routes serve James
Hospital approx. 10 minutes walk to the
For more info check www.dublinbus.ie.
Taxis & Pick Ups
There will be no taxi access permitted
onto Military Road before, during or
after the events. A drop off area will be in
operation for taxis on Johns Road West
in the Vicinity of Heuston Station. A taxi
waiting area will be facilitated along St
John’s Road West (Inbound) for pick up
following the events.
Manu Chao plays The Royal Hospital Kilmainham on
Saturday June 27
Blood or Whiskey featuring
Dugs Mullooly (far right)