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'Clandestino': Manu Chao's intimate tour through the Balkans

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Skopje (Republic of North Macedonia) (AFP)

With intimate acoustic concerts, a foray into environmental activism and a new song penned with a local band, indie darling Manu Chao has charmed fans in the Balkans with his under-the-radar tour.

This past week the Franco-Spanish singer-songwriter, who has just re-released his cult album "Clandestino", performed shows in Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

The concert halls were packed even without any flashy promotion or media buzz -- word of mouth got the job done in a region where Manu Chao has a devoted following.

In the southern Serbian city of Nis, concert organisers had planned to print posters, but didn't have time to put them up before tickets were sold out in two hours.

"His wish was that there be as few people as possible to make the atmosphere as intimate as possible," said Sonja Urosevic, organiser of the concert, which was attended by 1,200 people.

In North Macedonia's capital Skopje, a similarly up-close-and-personal vibe was welcomed by fans.

"It looks like the guy finally wants some intimacy while performing, and I want that too," said Nikola Mladenovski, a 36-year-old lawyer in the audience.

The artist is set to release a single on November 5 in collaboration with the Bosnian group Dubioza Kolektiv, an eclectic, high-energy musical act who shares his anti-globalist and anti-capitalist causes.

Manu Chao had already collaborated with the Bosnians on their song "Red Carpet" in 2016, where they sang to the sound of brass and rhythmic guitar riffs: "This is not a free world, just a free market".

While in Serbia Manu Chao made a stop in the Stara Planina region, delighting activists who have been protesting the construction of mini hydroelectric power plants that threaten the pristine, mountainous environment.

On Facebook he posted a photo holding up a T-shirt from the protest movement that said: "We won't give you the rivers".

The down-to-earth tour fits Manu Chao's modus operandi in recent years, including the low-key release of the new edition of "Clandestino".

The upcoming single with Dubioza Kolektiv plays on an theme that people in the Balkans know well: the plight of refugees.

The region has been a crossroads for hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2015.

More recently, huge numbers of migrants have found themselves stuck in the Balkans indefinitely, with the European Union's tightened borders halting their progress westward.

The new song, titled "Cross The Line", is dedicated to them.

It is "an ode to the determination, audacity and strength that are necessary to leave one's homeland and face an uncertain future", according to the Balkan record company Menart.

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