That Maná siz­zle hits a new de­gree

An edgier sound sparks fresh praise for the Mex­i­can pop band

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - BY CAROLINA A. MI­RANDA

Ask most An­ge­lenos which band holds the record — along with Tay­lor Swift — for most sold-out shows at the Sta­ples Cen­ter, and chances are they will name a legacy rock act like the Rolling Stones or U2. They would be wrong. The record-holder is Maná, the pop-rock out­fit from Mexico, which has per­formed 11 sold-out shows at the 18,000seat venue over its ca­reer. This week, the band is back at Sta­ples for two nearly sold-out shows that could put them ahead of Swift, at least un­til Au­gust when the pop star re­turns to L.A.

To­gether since 1986, Maná — com­posed of lead singer Fher Olvera, drum­mer Alex González, gui­tarist Ser­gio Val­lín and bassist Juan Calleros — has sold 40 mil­lion al­bums and has 127 gold records, four Grammy Awards and seven Latin Gram­mys. The band mates have col­lab­o­rated with Car­los San­tana, gigged for Pres­i­dent Obama at the Kennedy Cen­ter in Washington, D.C., and earned the sort of el­der states­men sta­tus that would al­low them to con­tinue fill­ing are­nas by play­ing their old hits. But Maná is en­joy­ing a mo­ment. The band’s ninth stu­dio al­bum, “Cama In­cen­di­ada” (Burn­ing Bed) has oc­cu­pied the top slots of the Bill­board Latin Pop charts since its de­but in early May and has been No. 1 for the last four weeks. The al­bum’s first sin­gle, “Mi Ver­dad” (My Truth), a duet with Colom­bian songstress Shakira, de­buted at the top of Bill­board’s Hot Latin Songs chart at the end of Fe­bru­ary, and it has re­mained among the top 10 Latin Pop Songs for 17 weeks.

“We wanted to do some­thing new: works with new sounds, new el­e­ments,” González says via tele­phone from the Mo­jave Desert, where the band filmed the mu­sic video for “La Prisión” (The Prison). “There are funk el­e­ments. There are dance­able el­e­ments. There is a lot of Latin rhythm. It’s got a bit more move­ment.

“It’s a very dif­fer­ent record from what we did in the past, but it’s still Maná.”

The band cer­tainly has a dis­tinct sound, marked less by its mu­sic — a blend of pop-rock in­fused with Caribbean grooves — than by Fher’s rough-hewn vo­cals,

which lend them­selves equally as well to ro­man­tic bal­lads as they do to rock an­thems.

But over the course of its last few al­bums, that sound had be­come rou­tine and the lyrics had grown in­creas­ingly angsty, lead­ing to grum­bles about the band los­ing its touch.

Some Mex­i­can crit­ics have even de­rided Maná as fresa (lit­er­ally “straw­berry” but slang for “rich and stuckup”). “Cama In­cen­di­ada,” how­ever, has re­ceived pos­i­tive write-ups. Leila Cobo of Bill­board de­scribed it as “an al­bum full of party rock with a sur­pris­ing edge.”

Part of that edge comes from the band’s po­lit­i­cal stances. They’ve never shied away from speak­ing out on dif­fi­cult top­ics. In the late 1990s, it called for Chilean dic­ta­tor Au­gusto Pinochet to be tried. The group’s 1997 song “Me Voy a Con­ver­tir en un Ave” (I Will Be­come a Bird) is inspired by a work by Uruguayan au­thor Mario Benedetti about a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner.

In re­cent years, var­i­ous mem­bers of the band have spo­ken in fa­vor of immigration re­form in the United States and against cor­rup­tion in Mexico.

“Mex­i­can politi­cians are an em­bar­rass­ment,” says Fher (who goes by his first name) by tele­phone from Guadala­jara. “Our po­lit­i­cal class has be­come com­pletely de­hu­man­ized. When the 43 stu­dents from Ay­otz­i­napa dis­ap­peared, the politi­cians barely re­acted — as if these 43 peo­ple didn’t have value. There’s a lack of em­pa­thy, and it’s re­ally [messed] up. It scares me.”

In the new al­bum, they recorded a rock-gui­tarmeets-Mex­i­can-polka cover of “So­mos Más Amer­i­canos” (We Are More Amer­i­can), a song by the San Jose-based norteño band Los Ti­gres del Norte, that serves as an an­them to im­mi­grants in the United States. (Sam­ple lyric: “They keep shout­ing at me to re­turn to my land / Be­cause I don’t fit here / But I want to re­mind the gringo that I didn’t cross the

bor­der / the bor­der crossed me.”)

“Maná for many years has been ask­ing for immigration re­form,” says González. “We have long val­ued the role of im­mi­grants in the U.S., who work so hard to seek a bet­ter life for them­selves. The United States is a place that was formed by im­mi­grants.

“When we heard the Los Ti­gres song,” he adds, “we thought that it per­fectly cap­tured the Mex­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence. If there is a group that has nar­rated the story of the Mex­i­can im­mi­grant in the U.S., it’s Los Ti­gres del Norte. They are idols.”

Maná also looked out­side the band for help putting the new al­bum to­gether.

Since it first burst onto the world stage in the early 1990s with its alt-rock­meets-Latin-pop al­bum “¿Dónde Ju­garán los Niños?” (Where Will the Chil­dren Play?), the band has al­ways pro­duced all of its own records.

But this time, it de­cided to hand the reins over to some­one else: Ge­orge Nor­iega, the Cuban Amer­i­can pro­ducer who has pro­duced acts such as Shakira and Glo­ria Estefan.

“With a lot of hu­mil­ity, we said, ‘ Órale, you are now in charge,’ ” says Fher of the process. “We had good chem­istry with him. We let our­selves be loved. And he gave it another color. It re­freshed the sound.”

It also helped Maná hold on to its sta­tus as one of the big­gest Latin rock acts of all time.

The band be­gan life in the early 1980s in the musi- cians’ na­tive Guadala­jara as a group called Som­brero Verde (Green Hat), inspired by the mu­sic of the Bea­tles and the Rolling Stones. By the mid-1980s, the group had lost steam and var­i­ous mem­bers de­parted, ei­ther to pur­sue other op­por­tu­ni­ties or go back to school.

All that was left of the lineup was Fher and Calle- ros. They put an ad in the news­pa­per for a drum­mer and hired González, who at the time was 15. (Val­lín joined in 1994 as a re­place­ment for gui­tarist César López, who left the group.)

In the late ’80s and ’90s, Maná re­leased a pair of mod­estly suc­cess­ful al­bums that got them a fair bit of at­ten­tion around Latin Amer­ica. But it was the ska-laced “¿Dónde Ju­garán los Niños?” — whose bouncy sound seemed to chan­nel the Po­lice — that served as the tip­ping point to in­ter­na­tional star­dom.

Other highly suc­cess­ful al­bums fol­lowed: 1995’s funkier “Cuando los Án­ge­les Llo­ran” (When the An­gels Cry) and “Sueños Líqui­dos” (Liq­uid Dreams), from 1997, with its fla­menco guitar riffs. The band’s last al­bum, “Drama y Luz” (Drama and Light), re- leased in 2011, ex­plored darker ter­ri­tory. It came in the wake of a num­ber of per­sonal losses for the band, in­clud­ing the death of Fher’s mother and sis­ter to can­cer.

Now Maná is ready for new chal­lenges. The band kicked off its U.S. tour in San Diego last week and ar­rives at the Sta­ples Cen­ter for shows on Thurs­day and Satur­day. As al­ways, it will be a spec­ta­cle, prom­ises Fher: “We have a pro­duc­tion de­signer from Bel­gium and the show looks beau­ti­ful — with in­cred­i­ble video and im­pec­ca­ble sound.”

And nat­u­rally, there will be at least one ex­trav­a­gant drum solo. González is known for his elab­o­rate set­ups, com­plete with ro­tat­ing plat­forms and other tricks. Dur­ing the last tour, for “Drama y luz,” he popped open a drum head and pulled out a beer.

But he won’t say what he has in store for the Los An­ge­les shows.

“Let’s just say there will be a lot of sur­prises,” he chuck­les cryp­ti­cally. “We are build­ing the cir­cus, as I like to say.”

Allen J. Schaben

MANÁ’S Juan Calleros, left, Fher and Alex González per­form in the Mo­jave Desert while shoot­ing a video for new song “La Prisión.”

Allen J. Schaben

MANÁ DRUM­MER Alex González, from left, gui­tarist Ser­gio Val­lín, bassist Juan Calleros and singer Fher shot the video for their new song, “La Prisión,” at the parched Lucerne Lake in the Mo­jave Desert.

Allen J. Schaben

A FIERY TABLEAU in the Mo­jave Desert, part of a Maná mu­sic video, makes an apro­pos im­age for the band’s new al­bum, “Cama In­cen­di­ada” (Burn­ing Bed).

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