Clandestino: Manu Chao

Against a sonic backwash of beach life – waves, children laughing – a strummed acoustic guitar begins its metronomic time keeping. The tropical climate has thickened the instrument’s strings, but the rusted steel just deepens in richness. Manu Chao’s pinched, double-tracked Spanish transmits a police bulletin in reverse: confession.

Solo voy con mi pena
Sola va mi condena
Correr es mi destino
Para burlar la ley

En Inglés:

Alone I go with my sorrow
Alone with my sentence
Running is my destiny
To mock the law

This is partly my translation, and not a literal one. Another Spanish/English conversion rightly gives burlar as “escape,” but “mock” seizes on Manu Chao’s anti-authoritarian scorn.

Lost in the heart
Of the great Babylon
They call me Clandestine
For [being an illegal]

This was Manu Chao after having traversed Latin America with a backpack and four track. Consider Chao’s 1998 solo debut Clandestino the unofficial soundtrack to The Motorcycle Diaries: Che Guevara unplugged. As onetime cell leader of Parisian punk extremists Mano Negra, Chao’s at his most vulnerable on Clandestino’s opening title track. Bookending highlight “Minha Galeria,” tender as a newborn. “Clandestino,” chilling island lullaby.

Mano Negra, clandestina
Peruano, clandestino
Africano, clandestino
Marijuana, illegal

And the best line might be my own. Where “raya” means line, it’s also what some natives might point out in the shallows as a manta ray.

Soy una raya en el mar
Fantasma en la ciudad

I’m a manta ray at sea
A ghost in the city

That’s Chao, by God: the Phantom. I tracked that son of a Spaniard 15, 16 years before his sternum-cracking set at Lollapalooza last summer confirmed all the prophecies and hearsay. The former Oscar Tramor really is Joe Strummer by way of Machu Picchu.

On Monday, a few thousand alert locals, who sold out the show in an Apocalypto heartbeat while the rest of Austin SXSWed, will stampede Stubb’s – the folks behind Lollapalooza – for a rare glimpse at Manu Chao. If what I witnessed in Chicago was any indication, expect Live Aid.

No opener, 8pm.

Tickets still available for Manu Chao Sunday, June 10 at the Palladium in Dallas.

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