Global superstar Manu Chao opened up about his childhood and his early roots in music in this week’s episode of National Public Radio’s Alt. Latino program. The 50-year-old global superstar was raised in France by Spanish parents who fled their country to avoid the dictatorship of late Francisco Franco. As a kid, Chao would play ride bicycles, play in the woods, and play sports with friends. “I was lucky for sure,” Chao said when he described his childhood.
The music that wafted through Chao’s home was that of his parents’ native country, Chao recalled. “There was a lot of music from South American and I remember my favorite favorite was a Cuban pianist called Bola de Nieve (Snowball),” he said. “We still sing songs of him.” Chao first became involved in music by playing bass in a neighborhood band, which he said exposed him to gangs in the area. The band lacked a singer and Chao soon became an obvious choice. “So I was the young man and I was not so strong as them so they decided I would be the singer,” Chao said. “It was not my decision. It was their decision.” He wasn’t happy at the time – but Chao now thanks the tough band members for launching his successful career.
Chao, who is currently touring and working on his songwriting, said he is very proud of his audience throughout the years. “I see the really eclectic mixture of the people coming to the show,” the seasoned singer said, “people of very, very different communities joining together in the show and the people from different communities that maybe in everyday life, never cross themselves. And I think that’s very, very important.”
Listen to Chao’s entire NPR interview here. Also – check out one of Chao’s most beloved songs, “Me Gustas Tu”: