Few artists working today produce as multicultural a music as Manu Chao. But instead of merely pandering to as wide an audience as possible in hopes of increasing sales, it's simply Chao reflecting his roots and heritage.

Born José-Manuel Thomas Arthur Chao some 45 years ago in Paris to Spanish parents who had fled there to escape the Franco dictatorship, Chao was surrounded by artists and intellectuals from all walks of life, largely as a result of his journalist father. By the late '70s, "Manu" soon found himself a drunk and rebellious teenager, ambling about the city with other disaffected youth until he heard a calling one day:  A soundcheck by Northern Ireland's punk provocateurs, Stiff Little Fingers. One of the seeds for the Latin alternative music movement was planted.

Taking in the classic punk aesthetics of bands like the Clash, the Ramones, and proto-punkers the MC5, Chao formed the Spanish/English group Hot Pants in the mid-'80s which soon gave way to Los Carayos, a similar but more varied effort whose members included his brother Antoine. These groups laid the foundation for Mano Negra ("black hand") in 1987, the seminal group that he founded with his brother, cousin Santiago Casariego, and others that garnered a worldwide audience. A swirling mixture of punk, rock, folk, reggae, African, and Latin, Mano Negra saw particular success in Europe and South America where, in 1992, they toured port cities via a ship from which they would perform (it also helped that they sang in English, French, and Spanish). The band eventually succumbed to internal conflict and officially disbanded in 1995 after releasing five albums, one being a compilation of their best Spanish-based material. Through it all, Chao often looked to Gibson guitars for the raw, visceral tone and while he currently mixes it up onstage, he's been known to fire away on an SG.

Reconvening his trilingual, multi-genre vision in Madrid, the musician cobbled together Radio Bemba Sound System, a name that nodded to Cuba's Castro/Guevara-led revolution and reflected his continued passion for politics. If Chao's earlier efforts were harder-edged, more aggressive, and confrontational, his new sound was breezier and more Caribbean-based. Like the reggae and ska he began to incorporate, Chao juxtaposed socially-conscious lyrics with lively, danceable melodies. He's released four albums under his own name with a fifth to be released the end of this month (the debut, Clandestino, is widely a considered a classic). Needless to say, his popularity has risen tremendously throughout the world, though Chao has been slow to reach them: He dislikes traditional, regular touring and only gets to some of his fan strongholds every few years. As such, when he does bring his highly energetic, multi-lingual performances, the crowds can be huge. It was reported that his performances in Cuba and Mexico City in 2007 each drew 100,000 plus fans.

This year also has seen Chao appear several times in the United States, most notably at Bonnaroo and Coachella, where the newly reunited Rage Against the Machine insisted that he precede them.

Chao, as always, is a frenetic artist, constantly working on several projects at once. These past few years have also seen him in the role of producer for renowned Malian artists Amadou et Miriam and, most recently, the Algerian artist Akli D. Perhaps most interesting is his involvement with director Emir Kusturica, a two-time Cannes winner, who's working on a biopic about famed Argentinean soccer player Diego Maradona who Mano Negra paid homage to on the song "Santa Maradona." The two are working directly with Maradona and Chao has already recorded some original material for the film.

For even more Manu Chao go to www.myspace.com/manuchao and www.manuchao.net/.