Quite where to begin with Manu Chao is a mystery. For the thousands of manic, boisterous fans in the grounds of IMMA on Saturday night you can only start and end with his music. At no point do the hardcore at the front of the crowd stop jumping and and at no point does he stop encouraging them. Some music transcends lyrical meaning and without daring to decipher Chao’s words of wisdom – State doesn’t speak Spanish that well, we’ll freely admit – we can only imagine that it was something special going on. King of the Bongo somehow seems like a cheap title for a man this revered.
The punk element is every bit as prevalent in the little Spanish Frenchman’s music. His family history is remarkable and only a fool could overlook that tonight is more shouty and Communist-tinged than Joe Strummer and Karl Marx in a fist-fight with the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Chao and his band pack a serious punch and their Latin inspired sound only highlights the contrast in musical styles they have on their palette; a little trill here, salsa there, merengue to follow. Blood and thunder after that. Arriving onstage at precisely 8.30, the little revolutionary is all fists in the air, neck veins popping, spittle flying and eyes bulging as he generates near-mass hysteria. “Fuck off, rain”, even the weather get’s a talking to.
His hype man looks like your Da on holidays and is doing everything in his power to get people whipped into a storm. He doesn’t have to try hard and he settles back into his day-job as keyboardist as the flags come out. Cuba, Spain, Catalonia, Ireland, Argentina, Che Guevara and Gonzo from the Muppets all represented in a space no bigger than 10 square meters. We should all bring more flags to outdoor gigs. Flags and cheery camaraderie. The band are great, as are the songs, but the crowd are a thing of wonder and you just can’t ignore it. It’s a silly thing, but it’s still a thing nonetheless.
Anyway, ‘King of the Bongo’, ‘Radio Bemba’ and ‘Clandestino’ were joyous to the point of spiritual. Wrapping up after nigh-on two straight hours of manic jumping and bellowing, Manu Chao is a folk-hero of legendary proportions.
Manu Chao photographed for State by Leah Carroll.