Music Review: Manu Chao's "Baionarena"

12/20/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Patricio Maya Solis

Manu Chao and his band, Radio Bemba, made up of musicians from all over the world, combine politically charged lyrics, catchy melodies and a punk rock delivery with trumpets, accordions, Spanish guitars, bongos and pre-recorded loops (think political speeches or Tarzan screaming in the jungle).

“Baionarena,” Chao’s new 30-song album recorded live in 2008 at Bayonne, France, makes clear two things about the French-born multilingual world rocker. First, his patent sound—full of Latin, Jamaican and Eastern European influences—is better suited for small venues. Second, his career as a solo artist has been just as fruitful as his early work with seminal gypsy-punk group Mano Negra

Musically speaking, “Baionarena” isn’t a complete success. Manu Chao’s previous live album, 2002‘s “Radio Bemba Sound System,” did a better job at showing musical complexity. During some songs, the highly amplified guitars and drums in “Baionera” smother the feverish acoustic catchiness that make Manu Chao songs so festive (the big venue is partly to blame).

That said, the album packs a great number of hits and captures the band’s live energy in an immediate, highly energetic way.

Though some songs don’t come through clearly because of over amplification, “Baionarena” has several powerful renderings. “Casa Babylon,” for instance, a Mano Negra hit, comes through very cleanly because, among many reasons, the trumpet becomes more notorious than the electric guitar.

“Desaparecido,” from 1998's masterpiece “Clandestino”--which is Chao’s best album to date--brings in acoustic elements with even better results. At midpoint in the song, Chao stops singing his catchy chorus and allows the Spanish guitar to interact with the public and various loops, including that of a police car siren. He only interjects to make short statements that blend with the music.

The whole concert displays the powerful, emotional connection between the musicians and the public. “Hiver,” one of the last songs from the second CD, has Ska elements and is delivered in French. In this song, Manu Chao’s punk rock influences show in its speed and power. An unexpected little gem.

Baionarena,” which includes a DVD with six music videos, a short documentary and the full concert recorded live at France’s Bayonne Arena, has several accomplished moments. All the powerful songs are too many list. Suffice it to say that Manu Chao has had a fruitful career and this album captures him playing a big concert at the height of his power and popularity.

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