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The Train of Ice and Fire: Mano Negra in Colombia | reviews, news & interviews

The Train of Ice and Fire: Mano Negra in Colombia

The Train of Ice and Fire: Mano Negra in Colombia

Father's view of a band gone loco

"There have been some legendary rock'n'roll train rides over the years", as music journalist Nigel Williamson put it, "but there has surely never been a train ride like the one Manu Chao took across Colombia in 1993." The travellers included Manu's band Manu Negra (a hugely successful band throughout Europe and Latin America at the time)  and assorted other musicians, clowns, circus artists and tattooists, not to mention ice-sculptures and, a fire-breathing dragon called Roberto.

Train of Ice and FireThe train toured, without security, from Santa Marta on the coast to Bogotá, one of the most dangerous areas in the world at the time and mostly controlled by guerrillas and narco-trafficantes. On the train was Manu's father Ramon Chao (his other son Antoine was also in Manu Negra on trumpet), who is a well-known and respected leftist writer and broadcaster in France and Spain with numerous books to his credit.

This graphic blow-by-blow description was published shortly after the trip in Europe but is only now been translated, expertly by Ann Wright, into English. Ramon explains that one of his motivations was to keep an eye on his sons, who he was understandably worried about. Manu said he could come along provided the book wouldn't be as complex and literary as his other ones, which Manu claimed not to understand.

His literary mission is accomplished with the requested directness, wit and great descriptive powers. From the personal discomfort, to the highs and lows of morale, funding difficulties, derailment, teenage stowaways, flirtations and interactions with sometimes bemused, charming or desperate locals, the tour was packed with colourful incident. His descriptions of the natural world are poetic and he adds useful political and historical context about Colombia.

When the train reaches Aracataca, the real-life model of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Macondo of A Hundred Years Of Solitude, the band disintegrates, permanently, and only the most foolhardy continue. But as his father points out, Manu is "stubborn" and he sees the trip through, with the remaining revellers miraculously in one piece. Even if one of the main ideas, to revive the Colombian rail system didn't work, the book is a fabulous (in the old sense of full of mythic fables) account of a wonderfully "super-intenso", as Manu called it, borderline insane trip.

The Train of Ice and Fire: Mano Negra in Colombia, by Ramon Chao (Route Publishing, 2009)  Find it online

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