For his first live album release, Manu Chao's mellowness has for the most part been abandoned for an ardent blend of reggae and ska along with salsa and traditional Mexican sounds. On a live disc, these vibrant sounds make for an awesome dance party.
As a musician who has journeyed to Latin America, Africa and the Middle East in search of inspiration, and who on this tour played a motley of places, like Chiapas, Anaheim and Belgrade, his obvious interest in playing to the world that inspires him is very apparent. Listening to this album is like being at the international terminal at the airporthe sings in Spanish, English, Portuguese, and Italian. And he sings from the street, from the neighborhood, the places tourists don't seek out.
While Clandestino was introspective and his second album focused more on fun, Radio Bemba is a mix of the two: energetic and reflective. The highly spirited energy of this album is infectious. Hips must function efficiently to enjoy "Rumba de Barcelona", "Machine Gun" and "Blood and Fire", while the reworked "Clandestino" has been baptized with reggae.
Mexico, especially Tijuana and Chiapas, figures prominently on this record. From the plight of the immigrant on "Bienvenida a Tijuana", the debauchery of the border city on "Welcome to Tijuana", to the political poetry of Subcomandante Marcos set to a reggae beat on "EZLN", the country is a well of inspiration. Of course Chao moves on to his other heroes, like Bob Marley, on "Mr. Bobby".
While rhythm explodes all over the disc, his element of social commentary is hardly missing, as "Peligro" or "Por El Suelo" attest. While his heart may have been in reggae, his most compelling songs are his ballads. From the Portuguese "Minha Galera" to "Bienvenida a Tijuana" he crafts evocative, passionate laments.
From the looks of it Chao and his musicians has just as much fun as the audience does on stages across the globe. The term "world music" has been thrown around quite liberally the last few years, but if there were ever a candidate in the new millennium for World Music Man, it would be the zealous Chao.