What’s interesting about playing in the United States to you?
It’s interesting to play in every country in the world. In contrast to many European groups who don’t have the opportunity to come here (because it’s not an easy task; even getting the visas can be difficult), the United States was never a priority for us. We look upon coming here just like we do any other country. Many bands in Europe go crazy when you mention the United States, because they’re thinking about their careers. Honestly, I think that one could forge an international career, musically speaking, without having to come here—just like I’ve done for years. I want to emphasize that it’s been years since I’ve come here, but it’s the same case with other places in the world. I haven’t delayed coming here any more than I’ve delayed returning to Latin America or playing in Europe. When we spend a significant amount of time in Latin America, the people in Europe ask me, “Manu, where are you? It’s been years since we’ve seen you.” And when I’m in Europe, it’s just the opposite.
There are some artists who refuse to visit the United States for political reasons. Is that the case with you?
No. I, like many others, am very concerned about the [current] governmental policies of the United States, which seem to me to be very absurd and on the verge of suicidal on a worldwide level. And that’s one more reason to come here, to meet all the people who are struggling within the nation against the craziness at the White House. These are activists who dream of a more balanced nation that’s committed to sharing the planet with others.
A San Diego newspaper headlined an article about your visit to that city like this: “Bush’s #1 Enemy Has Arrived.” What do you think about that?
I believe that he has much worse enemies than me. He’s not something that I focus on all the time. It’s true that his actions have me worried, along with three-fourths of the planet, and that’s not just my opinion. This has been going on for the past few years, I’m not the only one who says it—actions speak for themselves. The image of the United States has fallen around the entire world at an incredible pace. It’s not the fault of the people who live here, but rather that of their government—that’s obvious. Terrorism cannot be fought with more terrorism; you have to combat it with education, contribute to the development of nations and enable people in every country to live decent lives.
To what do you attribute your bellicose image?
Whoever says that about me doesn’t really know me. I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and there’s never been a problem with violence at any of my concerts. I am 45 years old, life has been good to me and I’ve had a lot of luck. Like [Eduardo] Galeano’s [the renowned Uruguayan author] book says, “lo que venga es propina” (The rest is just icing on the cake).
Your parents fled the government of Franco in Spain. Do you think this was the original basis for your constant struggle against oppressors?
I’d say it really was the nature of our family. I remember as a child (when I really wasn’t old enough to understand) that there were exiles in my parent’s home in Paris every Sunday, people from Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, all searching for the path to a better future. Being so young, I didn’t really realize what was going on, but this surely had an influence on me. But today there’s cause enough to be worried about what’s going on in the world—there are many reasons to focus your energy on so many struggles for a certain level of human dignity, that it’s almost mind boggling.
Is war present in the words of your new songs in the album you’re currently working on?
It’s obviously present, because it’s arriving. Today the war is being fought somewhere else, but nowadays the world is very small compared to what it used to be, because the people are so intermingled.
Although people wouldn’t notice it at the music stores, you’ve been very busy lately. Why don’t you bring us up-to-date on your immediate plans?
I have been working on productions with other people like Amadou and Mariam from [the African nation of] Mali, for example. I’ve also been working with a singer from Argelia and am producing for some others from Mali who are part of the hip-hop scene of Bamako… and all this activity, of course, causes me to forget about working on my own music. I have two CDs recorded but still lack the mixing part, and a third that’s not yet recorded. The material from the latter, though, is now ready because we have been performing it at the clubs. It’s a rumba album and a summary of the repertoire that we play in the bars, so it’s already got its title: Lo peor de la rumba Vol. 1. Besides these three, I have a work in “portuñol” [a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish] that’s very advanced, because I’ve written a lot of the songs during my visits to Brazil.
But which is the first of these albums that you plan on releasing?
It’s one I forgot to mention; it will be the “little brother” to Clandestino and Esperanza. I still don’t have a title for it, but it will be a mix of various languages and a little more of rock. I want it to be a sort of mix between my studio music and my live performances.
Why don’t you release all of this material now? What’s the objective?
There’s no specific objective. Beginning the recording of a song is easy; finishing, mixing and polishing it up is the hardest part of the job, and so I always leave that for last. I always go into the studio planning to finish a song, but within 30 minutes I’m recording another song and then another one… It’s much harder for me to finish an album than to begin one.
In spite of the fact that you’re considered an alternative musician, your image and your music have been a smashing success in Europe and Latin America. Has your life changed in any way as a result of your two solo albums?
Not much. In the beginning, Clandestino was not a very mainstream album. It really began to take off about a year after its release. The popularity of this work really came as a result of word-of-mouth—people just kept telling others about it. Now, as far as dealing with the fame, it’s something that you just get accustomed to. It has its ups and downs. There are worse things in life. I see other artists complaining and saying that being famous is super complicated. I think it’s more complicated having four children and nothing to feed them; now that’s a problem. Fame is a very small problem—you have to take it with a grain of salt. I go out on the street everyday, get on the subway, mingle with the people on the street and no one bothers me; on the contrary, people give me some very nice energy. And that’s a good thing, because if I couldn’t hit the street, that would be a serious problem indeed.
As a Frenchman, do you think [Zinedine] Zidane has softened his image and somehow vindicated himself after his bout of poor sportsmanship during the World Cup right before his retirement?
For me, that behavior on a soccer field was unacceptable, no matter what, whether you’re called Zidane or Philip or if you’re playing for a B team from who knows where.
He was received with honors in France...
It was a very poor example for others. The authorities shouldn’t complain later when the youth are burning cars in the street. If this is the example from the older brothers, and then the president receives them with honors, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when the youth burn down the whole neighborhood. But that’s the way the world is, and it’s getting worse everyday. Someone like Zidane should understand this. If you’ve got a personal problem with someone, there’s no reason to try and resolve it in front of the entire world’s cameras. It was just a question of waiting a few minutes.