Ramon Chao, father of Manu at the Literature Festival
RAMON Chao is a noted journalist. broadcaster and writer. He was chief editor for the Latin American service of Radio France Internationale, and worked for Le Monde and Le Monde Diplomatique.
He’s also the father of Manu Chao and if you don’t know who he is then you clearly have no interest at all in music that’s popular outside the tired old confines of the UK and USA.
Manu Chao is a huge star in most other places in the world, including France, where he produced Amadou and Mariam’s multi-million selling Dimanche A Bamako album.
Ramon Chao’s book, The Train of Ice and Fire, previewed in a unique coup for the Manchester Literature Festival at the Instituto Cervantes next Wednesday, is set in Colombia in November 1993.
A reconstructed old passenger train, bespangled with yellow butterflies, is carrying one hundred musicians, acrobats and artists on a daring adventure through the heart of a country soaked in violence.
The intention is to put on free shows for locals at railway stations along the way, vibrant spectacles involving music, trapeze, tattoo-art, an ice museum and, star of the show, Roberto the fire-breathing dragon. Leading this crusade of hope is Manu Chao with his band, Mano Negra.
Ramon was on hand to tell the story of the trip, but also to cast one eye to the social and political context of the land through which they travel, one of the most beautiful, but also most dangerous, countries in the world.
Part of the mission was to take ice to Aracataca, the home town of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the place that became the fictional Macondo in his classic One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Its opening line reads “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
As the train climbs 1,000 kilometres from Santa Marta on the Caribbean Coast to Bogota in the Altiplano, Ramon endures personal discomfort, internal strife, derailments, stowaways, disease, guerrillas and paramilitaries.
When the train arrives in Aracataca, Mano Negra disintegrates, leaving Manu to pick up the pieces with those determined to see this once-in-a-lifetime adventure through to the end.
Ramon’s is a book about hope and dreams in troubled times. It is about a father accompanying his son through an experience which will change his life. It is about Colombia, its flora, fauna, history, and politics but, more than any of that, it is a book about people.
“Maybe it was the best adventure I ever had,” remembers Manu Chao.
Ramon Chao introduces The Train Of Fire And Ice at the Instituto Cervantes, Deansgate, on Wednesday, October 22, from 6.30pm. Free.
City Life. Manchester. By Kevin Bourke | Fri, 17 October, 2008