The sounds of my neighborhood, Cypress Park, remind me of Manu Chao; a mixture of cultures clashing about on the streets -- police sirens, the bell ringing from a paletero’s ice cream cart, children playing in the streets, Sonidero blasting out of a big truck, teenage punk bands practicing in garages and loud TV’s trying to drown it all out. It all mixes together, creating its own symphony, much like Manu Chao's music, which is rooted in what bands like The Clash started. It is reggae influenced punk rock mixed with various influences picked up while traveling the world. While The Clash discovered America, Manu Chao found kinship in Latin America. In his music you can hear the Nueva Trova influences from South America. You can hear all the nights hanging out, drinking and playing every record from the Fania, Trojan and Disco Fuentes catalog. You can hear the influence of touring with such great bands like Tijuana No!, Maldita Vecindad and Negu Gorriak while he was in the band Mano Negra.
In all that, you can still hear his voice come through all the influences.
On Saturday, Manu Chao played The Sport Arena, located in the heart of South L.A. on MLK and Figueroa. The Sports Arena is rarely used now that the Staple Center is around a few miles away in the newly gentrified part of downtown Los Angeles. The only other show I've seen at The Sports Arena was Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls) -- The Wu Tang Clan and Ice Cube opened the show and absolutely rocked the spot. When it was time for Biggie to go on, a massive fight started and LAPD came in riot gear and the show ended early. A year later Biggie was dead and I never got my chance to see him perform.
Last time I saw Manu Chao was in San Diego. It was a great show for many reasons -- the first being that I went with someone I barely knew that soon became my partner in crime for many adventures to come. The second reason was that I was saw Manu Chao for the first time and third, the show was close enough to Tijuana that many Mexicanos were in attendance. Saturday’s show was cool for different reasons. My partner in crime went with me again. I almost canceled on her because I had a really high fever and the beginnings of a really bad cold. However, the minute I walked into the venue, my sickness seemed to just disappear. I saw many people that I knew. I saw people from local bands, regular customers that shop at Amoeba and old friends I haven’t seen in a while. I missed the opening act, Mexican Dubwiser, the mash-up master from Monterey, NL, Mexico. You can check him out every Wednesday at Club Nativo! at Zanzibar in Santa Monica.
Before the show, they played a couple of his new songs from his upcoming album, Radiolandia, over the P.A. Once on stage, Manu and his band, Radio Bemba, played songs off Clandestino and Proxima Estacion: Esperanza and some Mano Negra classics. Now that I've seen him twice it’s safe to say that all his shows are quite the same. In fact, if you checked his live DVD, Babylonia En Gaugua, it's pretty much nearly the same show. The power of Manu Chao comes from what he says in his songs and what it means to all of us who attend his shows. It’s not preaching to the converts. His songs are a reaffirmation of what we already know. His songs are our songs. We are the immigrants in "Clandestino," we are the wandering soul in "Desaparecido." We are those who have been constantly lied to ("Mentiras") and those who are lost in love ("Me Gustas Tu"). Everyone in the audience has a Manu Chao song that is close to his or her heart. As each song started I looked around to see the reactions of the different people around me. The college kids were psyched when "Welcome To Tijuana" came on, perhaps missing the irony behind it. During "Me Gustas Tu," all the gay, straight, interracial, immigrant and born in the U.S. couples embraced. During the Mano Negra songs, the old-school rockeros got up and started moshing in a sea of black band t-shirts. My partner in crime suddenly dragged me out on the floor to dance. One second we are skanking, the next minute we are in a Cumbia bliss followed by some pogo dancing. At the end of the show, the fever that I had forgotten about returned with a vengeance.
I spent the next two days in bed, sicker than I had been in a while. Going to the show was probably a bad idea physically, but spiritually it was needed and sometimes the trade-off is well worth it. As I laid in bed, I turned on the TV, the stereo, opened my window and let the outside sounds come in. My roommate was blasting Reggae from her room. The dogs were barking next door as my neighbor sang Baladas from the top of his lungs. The King Taco down the street was hopping with brisk Sunday business and across the street from them, the men argued about cars over some beers. After hearing all this, I closed my eyes, pulled the blankets over my feverish body and created my own Manu Chao influenced street symphony in my head. Once again my fever was forgotten.