Manu Chao Hits Gorky Park

For MTMusical, political. Not irritating.
Manu Chao, the Spanish-French musician who plays Gorky Park on Wednesday night, belongs to that rarest of musical breeds, espousing overt political views without being unbearably irritating.

The best rock 'n' roll, with a few notable exceptions, has always been a rejection of things, an adolescent nihilism that fuels the cult of the individual and an escape from society at large.

Not so for Chao, who began his rise to cult status with the 1999 release of "Clandestino," a collection of songs in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish laid over a lazy rhythm guitar that transports listeners to the streets of some Latin American shantytown.

Chao hates globalization -- or, more precisely, the inequalities that come with it, because he can't hate globalization. He grew up outside of Paris after being born to Spanish parents -- he would admonish that his father was Galician, his mother Catalan. He sings in seven different languages. He's inspired the sort of following that wears keffiyehs as scarves.

It's those sidelined by globalization that Chao sings for. Hippies draped in Peruvian bracelets might cheer when they hear the lyrics to "Tijuana" ("Welcome to Tijuana / Tequila, sex and marijuana"), but it's actually a cynical take on the seedy U.S.-Mexican border town. The title track to his debut album is about the "clandestinos," the faceless urban migrants who are relegated to the margins of society.

"Anywhere I go, I say what I think about what's going on," Chao told The Washington Post two years ago.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Chao has to say about Moscow's leagues of illegal immigrants subject to appalling violence and racism, with varying implicit and explicit support from the country's top leadership.

Chao is touring in support of his latest album, "La Radiolina," with live band Radio Bemba Sound System accompanying. Weather permitting, the outdoor show at Gorky Park should be a fine way to celebrate summer, politics and all.

Manu Chao plays Gorky Park's Green Theater on June 24 at 9 p.m.