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This is Radio Clash, Latin-style
By Angus MacSwan
LONDON (Reuters) - With their songs of Third World revolution, cries for social justice and broadsides against U.S. foreign policy, British punk rockers The Clash inspired a generation of young Latin Americans who heard their message from the other side of the globe.
Now, more than two decades after the band's demise, a new wave of Latin stars is paying homage to The Clash in a concert featuring versions of their songs put though a blender of salsa, reggae, Mexican and other flavors.
"Spanish Bombs: A Tropical Tribute to The Clash" debuted at London's Barbican Theater on Tuesday night. Backed by a 15-piece band complete with horns, congas and cantina-style accordion, guest singers tore through a repertoire of Clash favorites from "London Calling" to "Guns of Brixton" in true fiesta spirit.
"The attitude, the soul of the band, the songs have been an inspiration, something to follow, to learn from for all Latin American bands," producer Toy Hernandez told Reuters prior to the show.
"They had an awareness of our culture, we got that. It's really interesting lyrics-wise, not just music-wise," said Hernandez, a Mexican producer who has worked with Shakira and Manu Chao and was born about the time The Clash first came charging out of West London.
The Clash -- Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon --made their mark in the punk boom of the mid-1970s, singing of urban riots, unemployment, youth despair and the other ills afflicting Britain.
They then turned their sights on global concerns.
One album was named "Sandinista" in honor of the revolutionaries who had just seized power in Nicaragua. They sang of death squads in El Salvador, U.S. support for Latin American dictatorships, and name-checked people such as Chilean singer Victor Jara, murdered by the Chilean military after General Augusto Pinochet's coup.
Their music also developed to embrace other styles, particularly reggae, ska and Latin twists.
The classic line-up broke up in the early 1980s and Strummer, its lead singer and main activist, died in 2002.
The audience on Tuesday night featured a fair amount of middle-aged, paunchy British men who may or may not have once been punks. But there were also a lot of young Hispanics.
"I love The Clash. I've been listening to them since I was aged 12," said Andrea, a 23-year-old English student from Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The songs at the show sometimes sounded like a Tijuana bar band on a good night and at other times were thumping deliveries of reggaeton -- the mix of reggae, salsa and rap that sprung from the Hispanic barrios of New York.
"Washington Bullets," perhaps with deliberate irony, was sung by Blanquito Man of Latin Ska band King Chango with Colombian cumbia accordion flourishes. "Bank Robber," performed by Sargento Garcia, was half-punk, half-meringue. "Rock the Casbah" featured a thick salsa horn line and clanging cowbell.
Texan cult singer Alejandro Escovedo reworked "Straight to Hell" -- a song about Vietnamese-American children abandoned in Vietnam after the war -- into a Mexican border lament that evoked the tragedy and violence of that present-day situation.
"Spanish Bombs," about the Spanish Civil War and the execution of poet Federico Garcia Lorca by Franco's forces, was fittingly sung by Amparo Sanchez, who hails from Lorca's hometown of Granada.
Images of the band, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and various Latin American rebels were projected against the backdrop and it all ended with cries of "Hasta la Victoria Siempre," the leftist war cry.
The Clash's message still resonated with the youth of Latin America even today, Hernandez said.
"They have been with us for the past 30 years."
(Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Paul Casciato)