|"I'm at the best moment of my creative life"
by Mono Lo, SEPTEMBER 2002
It's with spontaneity, respect, an open heart and a great will to share that Manu Chao accepted our proposition to realize an interview for Radiochango. It's all in all a Merce day (a party in Barcelona). We met after a football match between Escudellers and Trippy to talk and drink a beer.
A meeting with the most smiling citizen.
The Colifata is a clandestine compilation with street musicians and Manu Chao. It appeared at the end of summer 2002 in the streets of Barcelona.
How did the idea of the Colifata develop; the idea to reunite street musicians and reproduce parts of the program of the hospital Borda in Buenos Aires?
The idea of the hospital comes from Carlos, an Argentine from here who makes films. The first time, I heard about La Colifata was in Buenos Aires. Everybody there told me about this program. I wanted to go and see the bands playing, but I didn't have enough time to go because of the limited time until my return flight. When I came back to Barcelona I talked to Carlos who had the programs of the Colifata on tape. Then the idea to do something with it and to reunite all the musicians of the district developed. Carlos' tapes sincerely moved me. The idea was to give the compilation this name in homage to the program and the radio in Buenos Aires.
What are you going to do next? The 3000 registered discs quickly disappeared.
You don't have to believe everything that's in the journals. Before, we brought out 1000 unites and today we are at about 1100, I think.
Will there be a Colifata 2 and 3?
We are working at the 2nd one step by step. We don't know yet how it will be. At first, we have to record the songs of the people here...from here and from abroad. It's not enclosed to Barcelona. However, what it will be like and what the final result will be, I don't know.
Do you think it is possible to have a similar program of the Colifata here in Barcelona, i.e. a musical program to support and heal people being in hospital?
Hombre! Working at a radio station and doing interviews is a good thing. There are already interesting stations here, i.e. Radio Barricada and Radio Bronka. At the one or other day I will work with them, as well. Maybe I'll pass by the Plaza Real this week to do an interview for Radio Barricada. I've been saying for one year that I'm going there, but I haven't done it yet. One of these nights I'll go there, I hope.
Did the experience with La Colifata push you into the direction of production?
That's got nothing to do with it. Everyone came up with some material and we mixed it all together. I have a singing studio, always on the move, but I don't even know how to produce myself. With the Galatians Paula and Sofia, for example, we recorded a little bit. I recorded with "JB" (or Chibi, sorry for the spelling), someone who is playing the guitar with Chabiret, a guy of the streets who does very nice things. But we don't know what it's going to be like. At the moment, we are recording to record, without thinking of the future. Concerning my future projects, you'll be disappointed because I don't have any. Right now, I'm here without thinking about any coming projects; having nothing in front of you. Maybe I'll release an album in a month, maybe never again in my life.
How many musical material, which has never been produced, could there be on the internet, because there is quite a lot?
On the web you find a lot of songs you can listen to recorded in concert halls or in bars.
What do you think about pirated copies?
It's not piracy you find on the net. People don't do commerce with it. I don't consider it to be piracy...People exchange thing, however, that they don't find anywhere else. That's not business. It's rather nice that all my concerts are on the internet. I'm even looking for these copies on the net. But I know that people don't earn money with it.
And what do you think about copying discs that are on the market and which could be bought?
Labels and big artists criticize me a lot, because they say I would defend piracy. (At that moment a colleague of Manu Chao shows some copies of Radio Bemba, laughing all over). I would like to be there when I'm criticized. The only thing I said was that it doesn't bother me, if my discs are pirated. I didn't say that I'm pro piracy. I favor the piracy that I call "at home". But the one of the mafias that you find to 90 % on the streets is pure exploitation. The sympathy that you can have to buy a disc from a Senegalian is reasonable. But that guy is a slave of a shitty mafia. And I'm against that. Because it's stupid that a mafia gets 90% of the selling of discs and not the label. I would like to be able to defend a piracy of the district. In every district a guy lives of piracy and you go buying his selection as you go buying your bread and daily journal. You ask him about the new things he has to offer today. Selling good music and making a selection for other people to sell music that's not available in other places seems to be a good thing to me. In contrary, a mafia that controls 90 % of the market is a damn thing. There is nothing worse for me than the mafia. But it doesn't keep me from sleeping, if someone pirates my songs. I'm earning good money to live and I can't be bothered. What I see, concerning the people who criticize me, is that they are generally rich. And I think that they exaggerate. Primarily, the problem is not Manu Chao's and the problem of his label, which loses money by piracy, but the one of the mafia which has to be restricted. It's also the problem of small labels, the independent ones. If you copy 2 to 3000 of my discs, it doesn't really matter for me. But for a small label it could mean ruin. The public has to be responsible and buy the discs from independent labels, like Sabina or Manu. They can pirate us, we have already made good money to support our living. You have to take care of the small ones. Piracy is a complicated problem, but when I read in the journals that Manu Chao supports piracy, I don't agree. I have never said that. Seriously, it doesn't bother me if my discs are copied. The big companies complain about piracy but CD's are very expensive. That's what I said and I'll say all my life. If I was 15 years old and had 24 € in my pockets, with which I could only buy one and a half disc, I would be really stupid not to get the songs I like on the internet. That's the logic of the guys from the street. It's the labels which have to be blamed for the piracy, because discs are to expensive.
However, the artist also doesn't earn a lot with the selling of discs, right?
It depends on the contracts and the artist, but our percentage is low. You can control the label but not the distribution. I fought 20.000 times to make the discs cheaper within the circulation of Virgin. But the present was not for the clients but for the distributors. They earned a lot for their life. "Super Manu lowers his price for 500 Pesetas, that makes 500 more for us." And the public had to pay the same price. The problem with the price for the consumers is complicated for the artists. They don't have much power to intervene in the distribution circulation, which receives 50 % of the price.
What are you going to do with Virgin right now?
I don't know anything, myself. I'm free of the whole contract with Virgin now, and I don't know if I'll sign a new one with them tomorrow.
What do you think of people like Esan Osenki who release good things all by staying independent? Doesn't it encourage you to do the same?
Esan Osenki, it's not called like that anymore, find out about that (Musika Metak). For me, it's the best example for an independent label. But to found a label ...I have been thinking about it for years, but that's not my kind of work. I'm not a good accountant. And you have to work with a lot of people you can trust.
Exactly, you know already all the necessary people to do it, right?
The problem is that from that moment on you are bound to it and I like to be on the move; not to be tied to anything. For example, if I wouldn't feel well in Barcelona tomorrow, I like to move quickly, go to Rio... I think I have serious people with confidence who could do it. But that doesn't mean anything. However, maybe, in two months, I'll found a label, I don't know. I still have to think about it. Sometimes when I think about it I start asking myself: Why doing it, if there is already Esan Osenki? They do it really well. But there are also 1000 possibilities to do it now: there is the internet, for example. The music world changes very quickly.
It's much easier today to record and have a studio. That has changed since your debut, doesn't it?
That's for sure. In ten years the costs decreased. Today, everybody can have a home studio and it costs less than back then when you had to rent a studio. Today, you have a very interesting musical quality. Things totally changed. La Colifata would not have been possible ten years ago. Everyone of us recorded at home and then brought it along to our meetings. Before, a day in the studio cost you 300 € and today, the machine that allows you to do it costs you ten studio days.
Do you install your studio sometimes on a fixed place?
I have a place in Poble Nou now, which I'll make into a studio. There is a lot of material which I don't use, I have already quite a lot on my Mac in my backpack. I'll leave all the old material which works very well in the studio. If not, I'll use the 8 sound-tracks which I used for Clandestino and Próxima Estación. I keep them because its easy. I have another machine that is more up-to-date which I use. I think Arturo has it. The Brazilians used it for their recording, as well. It moves around.
So, you don't do anything in Barcelona right now?
I'm on stand-by. It cost me, but I don't have anything in front of me at the moment. It allows me to be creative, as well, without pressure or time. Only experimenting.
Concerning the creation, are you always creative or do you have moments when you are blocked? What do you do to activate your creativity?
I think I'm on the best moment of my creative life. I smoke a joint and the music comes by itself. In contrary, the inspiration is another thing...it's o.k., it comes. You have it and you don't have it. Talking about the musical level, it's a continuing flux. The lyrics are more complicated. Sometimes I don't write anything in six months and some other time I do 30 songs in a week. I can't do it as I like. I can't say today I'm going to write a song, because afterwards sitting in front of the sheet nothing comes out. The song comes by itself and when you have an idea you have to write it down. Because, if not you would lose it for ever.
Do you have a trick?
There are no rules for creation, that's the nice thing about it. Creation comes or it doesn't, especially concerning the writing. That's the most difficult thing for me. It depends upon the people I'm with and upon the actual situation. Therefore, sometimes it is in English, in Spanish, in French or in Portuguese. Sometimes it's an idea, a sentence, and you have to write it down, even if you are sitting drunk in a bar at five o'clock in the morning. You write it down and you put it in your pocket. Afterwards, I have a plastic bag where I put the pieces of paper and when I have the time, I have a look on them. There are really good things and thongs that are complete crap.
And the fairy tales that you have written, do you like to make them known?
I really like writing fairy tales from time to time. But I've been missing the inspiration for two years. That doesn't bother me. I don't believe in creation when you have to suffer. If I had the time, I could get them out. While waiting I put photocopies next to me. I met Wosniak, a guy who makes beautiful drawings, in France. I'll give you his website. He made a wonderful reportage about our concert in Marseille. On the website www.scorbut.be you find drawings of artists like Charly Hebdo, which are not bought yet. There are drawings of the concert in Marseille and the one of Portugal. I gave Wosniak all my fairy tales, so that he could illustrate them, because he does nice things.
NEW ALBUM: RADIO BEMBA
I have some vehement questions which I found on the internet.
Go on, go on, otherwise we'll be bored.
A lot of people are annoyed of the new album. Especially because of the cuts. Was that your idea or Virgin's?
No, if the people want to blame someone than it's me and not Virgin. I made all the cuts and I'm liable for it. The poor ones, they don't see anything. I send them a finished product and they didn't change anything.
The Genoa concert didn't have any spice any more?
This one is on the internet. In addition, I have to admit that selling out Genoa is ugly. I would never do it. It was a concert to support the demonstrations. But people get annoyed about it.
The people who haven't been at your concerts will imagine your concerts less energetic than in reality...
That's what I'm saying. If the people don't like it, they don't have to buy it. There are other concerts on the internet. That's not a problem. Those will be more energetic, but, concerning the sound, I don't think that they will have the same quality. In this album the mix had been worked on. The idea was to let it play in a bar in the background, quietly, without getting annoyed by it by the time. Everybody is talking to me about the cuts. They are too barbaric. But I appreciate that. I respect it that they tell me. But you can find the concert you prefer on the internet.
There is a song that I like a lot; taken from a concert in Mendoza or Rosario. A slow version of Bala Perdida...
It's rare that we sing it in a concert, rather in bars.
Are there other slow ones that you play in concerts?
Ah... Alas rotas. It's a traditional bolero of Asia Costa, a Colombian, which I adore.
The collective Radio Bemba: What is it?
A lot of them live in Barcelona. Radio Bemba is a bit of everything. It's the group, when we produce films and it's the label, when we release discs. It's a bit of everything that we do.
Bidji made a very good disc with 08001...
There is Julian of the San Gil Studio, who helped us a lot with the Colifata.
How do you manage Radio Bemba, if everyone is going his own way?
We are on tour for two or three month and afterwards we separate. Our last tour, for example, finished in July and we just started seeing each other again. We meet each other, decide to make another tour and everyone who want to take part comes. When I know who is taking part I know what kind of spectacle it will be. From that moment on we start thinking what we are going to do. I'll see who is motivated and then we'll go on tour again.
The names you invent when you are on tour, where do they actually come from?
When we are playing in small concert halls, it's obligatory. If not, the hall explodes and that's not good. Neither for the audience, nor for the hall.
¿Os Terribles del Porriño?
That was in Prat long time ago... at the hall Capsa. Have you been there? With the drums at the end... It could not have been more in that hall. Until 5 o'clock in the morning. It was terrible. There were Oh Jarbanzo Negro playing right afterwards. Don't be afraid, those things will never die.
SOCIETY AND POLITICS
Concerning the anti-globalization movement, you can feel a lack of interest. Not by the people who support it but by the media. One year ago, everybody was talking about it. What do you think about it?
Everything has changed. The person who changed the roles is called Georges Bush. He announced after the 11th September: the ones who are with me are alright, the ones who are against me are bad, terrorists. Even pacifists, like me, according to Bush, are terrorists, because they wouldn't accept his rules. He said that very clearly. In the movement you find a thousand facets of thinking and proceeding, and I respect them because I can't tell who is right or not. But I'm a pacifist. There are people who prefer the voice of violence. I don't understand that but I respect it. I'm looking for pacifist voices and I'm made into a terrorist. People who think that way are the most intolerant and violent people who exist. That's bad! They radicalize and simplify everything. They take away the pacifist options to criticize. They are the terrorists.
Where are the prisoners of the Taliban war, for example? I'm not talking about the ones in Guantanamo but about all the others. Where are they? They are in containers! How many are dead and locked up and taken from one lace to another? Have you seen the testimonies of the drivers? They tell you about the criminals of the Serbian war, but how many criminals are there of the American war? All the prisoners of the Taliban war are dead and everybody knows. The Americans say they weren't dead, but the drivers tell you the exact opposite. And no one says anything against it. It stays on the fourth page in journals. We continue to judge Milosevic, but Bush would have to place right next to him. And I even haven't mentioned Sharon.
You were at the demonstrations in Genoa and Barcelona against a capitalist Europe. I don't know if you were aware of this, but the security policy was more than exaggerated. They had an army as if we were criminals or violent people. People were afraid.
That's what happened in Genoa - reduce a movement of 300,000 persons to violence only. It was a huge lye of the media. Those who were beaten up were innocent. When I arrived in France I was outraged to see that the media reduced it to a violent movement only. Not surprisingly, that we get violent after all. It's dangerous what Bush says about the good and the evil. A lot of people are pacifists and think the things Bush is doing are crap. And then you're put on the site of the evil ones. That's incredibly stupid! They are playing with fire and produce violence. It's a sign of debility to see that the eight leaders of the world are hiding in a castle on an island. That's not being strong but anxious.
What du you think about the Chiapas, which have been a topical issue for two years and which are getting all-but forgotten today?
That is because the world has turned upside down since last year. For me, it's a rare example of people in whom I believe. Every day that I get up I think of them and say to myself that I don't do anything. In the end, I don't do much. I've collaborated a lot with the Chiapas. Two years ago we went there to play in their communities and I still support the EZLN when I can. I know that I can't do much, because, actually, I would have to live with them. I have a lot of respect for them. It's an armed movement which continues on the pacifist way to find solutions for their problems. Violence is everywhere nowadays and it's not easy to stop.
Talking about violence, what do you think about the FARC?
A lot of things that are hard to see clearly in retrospective have happened in Colombia. I have been there a lot of times, but I can't say anything to this, because even the Colombians don't know how to escape the violence. When the violence is that present, it's hard to say what's right or wrong. It's like in Algeria or Bosnia. Violence makes everything else rot. It's violence between families. It will need generations to overcome this. It's not army against army, it's people who live together and kill each other. There are peasants, paramilitaries, guerilleros, narcos...and it's mainly the peasants who pay. And that's hard to heal. We played in Bosnia some time ago. It's still very fragile. The Serbs live two kilometers outside town. It's hard to forget that the person who killed your mother, your grand-mother, your son or your brother lives vis-à-vis. How do they want to arrange it in Palestine? Yesterday I read an article about Shebra and Chatila. A woman of 70 years said that her husband and her five children got killed, and that until her own death she would pass on revenge and hate to her grand-children. She just said it like that, " my hate will pass on from generation to generation. Maybe I'll not be able to see my revenge, but I could." I don't think that's the right way, but I didn't experience anything that hard. Violence is very passionate. I don't know what I would do in that case.
Something more difficult: ETA?
My mother is Basque and was born in Bilbao. The thing that always impressed me with the Basques is the unity of people. And now they are divided. For me it's a huge sadness. And then the ETA, how did my mother express it: "you always have to see who benefits of crime." Every death caused by the ETA is a vote for the PP. I don't believe in violence and the death of an Andalusian will not bring a solution. And above all it will give votes to the PP. The PP and the ETA are the same. They divide a country which used to be united.
MISTAKE OF THE LEADERS
Many people think that the anti-globalization movement is missing clear ideas and good leaders...
I don't agree with that. Leaders would mean the end. I was made into a leader some time ago and I didn't accept it. The only leader that can make thing move is the united people. Nothing is easier than to corrupt a leader. Your enemies are just waiting for that to happen to blow it all up. It's fairly easy to do. Last year, we really had to take care not to get caught with some cocaine or heroine in our bus. Everyone has to be a leader at a given moment. The people support the movement because they know we're going to create chaos.
AGAINST POLITICAL IDEAS
What do you think about the people who started the Motivé?
It's very hard to change policy from inside. It started some years ago that the policy is spoiled and you can't vote for your favorite person anymore. That's the big problem of democracy. Those who hold the power are the big enterprises. Real democracy would be to be able to vote for the heads of Sony, General Motors or Elf...because they are the people who rule. But only the actionaries can vote. That's money democracy: 1 Euro equals 1 vote. Meaning, that politicians, even if they wanted to, can't do anything. And those who are of a different opinion, those who oppose the American capitalism, are under a threat. If you are not a friend of the USA nowadays you are evil, and it is going to get really hard for your country to get support. Think of Venezuela. Chavez is what he is, in good as in bad, but he decided not to work with the Americans. He met with Khadafi and stopped selling petrol to the States. Now, the Americans are preparing to overthrow him by hook or crook. The coup d'etat was horrible. It was said to be a huge coup with 20 people killed provoked by the Chavistes. However, it's hard to tell who you started the gun-fire, because everyone is armed in that country. But in Caracas, the death of 20 people in one day caused by a coup d'etat would not be a big number. And at the end of every week 80 to 100 people get killed in Venezuela. So, since Chavez wouldn't collaborate with the USA, they try to overthrow him; by the media or by appointing politicians which were not elected by the Venezuelan people. I don't support Chavez. Infact, I don't know him. But I bet: if the USA attack Iraq, they are going to overthrow Chavez at the same time. They are only interested in Iraq and Venezuela because of oil. Afterwards it's going to be Saudi Arabia because of the Islamics and the oil. They can't go by plane to Venezuela, so they use machines less visible and less noisy. But in Iraq they directly approach from the front line. And the whole world accepts that they attack Iraq. They were all negotiating about that. Chirac was against it and he says it is necessary to intervene if the UNO is not able to react. As a matter of fact, all of them took part in the negotiations, but now they simply close their eyes.
Coming back to Motivés?
The people know that there is no option in politics nowadays. That's why they join the people who criticize the system. The political model of today is a complete failure. It's based on image and show and it's much more interesting to have a candidate who used to be Miss World, as in Venezuela, than to produce policy based on ideas. We live in that madness. Programs are not interesting. And in fact, nobody comes up with a program because no one would dare to withstand the Americans.
And what about the work of the associations, e.g. ONG...?
Change can only arise from the very basis. I don't know which genius could change the things on a worldly level. The only solution that I see is to organize on your level; with your family, your friends, your people, your area. If you do, you can see the results fairly quickly.
Another controversy. On our website there is a forum about you. Only recently, I found a critique which I don't like and which I'm tired of replying to. But it reflects the opinion of certain people. Many people accuse you of being famous. You are talking about solidarity but they don't know what you are doing with your money and who you support. What do think about that?
I'm used to answer this question. It's my private life and that shouldn't concern anyone. What we are doing with our money on a political level - those you know it, know it. If I made publicity with my support and donations I would be labeled opportunist. It would be said that I would profit from this or that to sell my discs. It's the snake which eats its tail. It's a waste of time. What I do with my money is my problem. It's to go to bed every night with a good conscience. I rather prefer to invent stories. There are a least 20 different Manu Chao's who are not like me at all. If I start worrying about the stuff people think about me I would be stupid. The only thing I can say is that I've earned a lot of money and that I don't have a bad conscience. I didn't steal from anyone and I've earned my living by the sweat of my brow. However, what I do with it only concerns me and the people I'm together with.
It often happens that you meet people in Barcelona with whom you discuss without knowing them. I've always admired your generosity to people who come to see you. Is that natural or something that you learned with the time?
The truth is, in general, that the people who come to meet me are terrible. It's very rare that they come to get on my nerves. However, I don't hide, I'm always there. Sometimes they come and search me. Radicals, they call me "complete idiot", so I sit down and discuss with them. Mainly it's very nice, I like that. The only problem is, if you talk to someone and someone else comes up to you, as well, you can't finish a normal conversation. Nevertheless, I meet great people everywhere - in Barcelona, in Paris, everywhere. Even the people who don't stop and only exchange a glance. And those who stop bring about something nice.
Few artists do this. Even the people on the streets don't have this responsibility.
I can do that because I'm not that popular. Imagine Michael Jackson going out on the streets. I understand that certain people can't do that. Even a football player like Kluivert. It's impossible to talk to him. You can only get an autograph and than he has to go. Others don't want to mingle their private with the artistic life and I understand that. It's neither good nor bad. It would cost me a lot not to be able to out on the streets. In that case I would abandon the music to do something else. I love to meet new people. Sometimes I'm fed up with meeting new people. After having gotten in touch with some twenty new persons and new information I'm totally exhausted. Sometimes I would like to sit down and smoke a joint. But that's not possible, I'm recognized immediately. That's why I have to isolate. But it's not a problem. I see that clearly. I just avoid Fridays and Saturdays.
I don't know if you have a project in your head right now, but how much preparation time do things like Le Train de Glace or the Cargo '92 need in advance and how are they prepared?
The preparation for the Cargo took two years and one year in Colombia before we could get on the train. Generally, problems arise when you leave your sphere of responsibility. If you start doing something else but an ordinary tour, people don't know how to organize it. So, you need a lot of time to fight , to talk, to find sources of money. But to dream and to realize your dreams is most beautiful thing in the world. Le Train is a great memory despite very hard moments. The best moment certainly was when we all got on the train. Three of us went to Colombia to prepare the terrain some month before we started. We went to the train office to ask for permission of the train, but the people didn't believe us. They told us to come back next week, thinking they would never see us again. The following week we were there. Step by step we made people dream. People need to dream. We also had to persuade the French embassy which didn't want us to go to Colombia. The were anxious that we would get kidnapped and that they would have to negotiate. Then someone proposed us to keep our security not by the para-militaries but by the guerillas. It was a secret agent specialist in guerillas and who had worked in Angola and Nicaragua. He respected the Colombian guerilla, which asked for his help in negotiations with the government. He liked our dream and helped us. We never had any problems with the guerilla. Afterwards we had to go from village to village by car to foresee and negotiate the security of the train. We told them that we were neither guerilleros nor the government, but clowns and that we would come by in six months with a train to encourage people's dreams. But it took a year.
If you would like to do something before 2004, you would have to start thinking about it now?
Everything is open at the moment and nothing is decided. What we did in Colombia nine years ago is not today. It was the most violent country in the world but to pass by the Magdalena would be impossible today. It's has been impossible for five years in Algeria, but today it is possible I think. It's a lot of work but afterwards it would be unforgettable. Dreaming and realizing your dreams. There is nothing nicer. I try to dream reasonably.
Could you make a jingle for Radiochango?
Sorry, but I never make jingles. I always refused. It would be a lack of respect concerning the others and the ones I always told no. I can't make exceptions.
Thousand thanks for the time you gave us and for your generosity.
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