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Mano Negra

Patchanka

Patchanka (1988)

King of Bongo

King of Bongo (1991)



Mano Negra (complete Spanish name: La Mano Negra, sometimes nicknamed La Mano in France) was a music group active from 1987 to 1995 and fronted by Manu Chao. The group was founded in Paris by Chao, his brother (Antoine) and cousin (Santiago), all born of Spanish parents with partly Cuban roots. Their songs were mostly in Spanish, English and French, often switching from one language to the other in the same song or in the middle of a sentence or title (e.g. "Puta’s Fever"). They also had a hit song in Arabic. They are considered pioneers of world fusion.

Mano Negra incorporated an impressive array of musical styles: punk rock, flamenco, ska, salsa, French chanson, hip hop, raï, rockabilly, reggae and African rhythms. They also made frequent use of samples from everyday sounds, electronica and experimental post-production techniques. This omnivorous approach, based on absorption and combination of a broad range of styles and sounds, was termed patchanka by the group (literally "patchwork", and the name of their first album). Taking Paris by storm in the winter of 1988-9, Mano Negra was touring the world by the following spring, achieving mainstream success in most of Europe and South America and recording a live album in Japan — however their penetration into the English-speaking world remained limited. "Mala Vida" (1988, later covered by Gogol Bordello), "King Kong Five" (1990), "Out of Time Man" (1991) and "The Monkey" (1994) are among their most famous songs.

The group earned a cult following through its eclectic sound and festive performances. After the release of their highly anticipated second album, Mano Negra famously declined to play the major Paris venues and toured only the cabarets of Pigalle instead (in accordance with the theme of the album, Puta’s Fever i.e. "whore’s fever"), sometimes ending their sets in illegal street performances. In 1992 they celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage with a Latin American tour completed on a cargo ship in which a street of Paris had been recreated ("having transported a street of Paris across the Atlantic is a marvel [una maravilla]", commented Gabriel García Márquez who visited the attraction). It included a performance at the Earth Summit where they were joined on stage by Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys).

Their last and most exploratory album, Casa Babylon (1994), was released only after the band’s splitup. Its reception in South America contributed to a renewal of Latino rock in the 1990s. Frontman Manu Chao went on to do a successful solo career, bringing some of Casa Babylon’s songs to the stage with his group Radio Bemba Sound System. Mano Negra is now considered a cult band and still spreads their spirit to multiple acts around the world.