The simple concept of Maná -- four guys getting together, writing songs, and rocking out when the occasion calls for it -- is actually very complex. As one of Latin rock’s most popular bands ever, Maná transcend the Mexican roots they are very proud of with a poetic ability to express the universal truths inspired by their culture and its history. They take on the things that are important in life: love, justice, and freedom. And they do it without sacrificing the things that excite rock fans: musicians getting a major groove on with songs that take you through your longest, hottest nights.
With their new album, Revolución de Amor (Revolution of Love), the four-piece band made up of Fher Olvera on vocals, Alex González on drums, Sergio Vallín on guitar and Juan Calleros on bass, has made their strongest album yet. Revolución’s songs range from ballads to sizzling salsified struts to wailing rock and roll, with enough electricity and integrity to make it one of 2002’s most important Latin music breakthroughs.
The new album, their first studio album since 1997’s enormously popular Sueños Liquidos, isn’t satisfied with sticking to a formula. The secret to Maná’s continued success has been their willingness to continue to evolve and expand their sound. “What’s interesting about the band is not having a set style that would limit us,” said Fher. “That’s why we all act as our own producers—we have no structure, no conventions—we just say what we feel.”
Maná have won four Grammy awards and sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. On their most recent tour of the U.S. in l998, the band sold out performances in 32 cities. They established a massive following in Latin America in the early ‘90s with albums like Dónde Jugarán los Niños (1992) and Cuando Los Angeles Lloran, (1995) the latter selling over a million copies. Cuando Los Angeles Lloran was also significant because after several personnel changes the group went through since its inception in the ‘80s, the current lineup finally fell into place. After Sueños Liquidos they broke new ground with the release MTV Unplugged album (1999), when they expanded their rock-reggae base to incorporate Afro-Cuban rhythms.
Now appealing to a worldwide audience as a vanguard fusion group that rocks, no longer just an extremely popular Mexican rock band, Maná caught the eye of Carlos Santana, who invited them to appear on his multi-million selling 1999 comeback album Supernatural with the song “Corazón Espinado”, which Maná wrote and produced and for which they won two Grammy awards. A major nationwide tour with Santana in 2000 had the effect of exposing Maná to an even wider audience, as well as giving them plenty of time to work out their ideas for Revolución de Amor.
“When we finished the Santana tour, we took a year off and rested,” said Alex González, a Cuban-Colombian who met Fher in Mexico City in 1985. “We did a little reflecting, looked at good things and bad things, and wrote a whole bunch of songs. Out of about 30 we picked 12 songs. We just said, ‘don’t play with your head, play with your heart. Just go in there and wail’—I think it was more about capturing emotion than playing perfectly.”
Maná welcomes songwriting contributions from three of its members, and are truly collaborative in the selection of their songs. While Fher’s signature raspy voice dominates idealistic songs like “Justicia, Tierra y Libertad” (Justice, Land, and Liberty) and “Pobre Juan” (Poor Juan), Alex takes an unusual drummer-on-lead-vocals turn on “Fe” (Faith) and “Nada que Perder” (Nothing to Lose). Sergio Vallín makes a George Harrison-esque guest appearance on vocals in “Por qué te vas.”
Speaking of guest stars, Revolución de Amor counts on two of Latin music’s biggest stars, Carlos Santana (“Justicia, Tierra y Libertad”) and the legendary Rubén Blades (“Sabanas Frias”) for support. “Carlos has influenced a new generation of Latino guitarists,” said Vallín, whose expanded role on songs like “Nada Que Perder” give the band its strongest gangbuster guitar sound ever. “From the beginning we had a special chemistry. It was also great to work with Rubén—we respect the work he has done as a person as well as a musician.”
Maná are very much what Fher would call “anti-rock stars,” valuing the music over the lifestyle at every turn. Songs like “Pobre Juan,” which tell the ill-fated story of a Mexican immigrant and “Justicia, Tierra, y Libertad,” which echoes the spirit of the Zapatistas and rights for Mexico’s indigenous people, are typical of Maná’s musical legacy, as well as their continued involvement with causes. In 1995, they founded Selva Negra, a non-profit foundation charged with protecting several hundred miles of Pacific coastline in Mexico. Selva Negra has also funded schooling for communities of the indigenous people of Chiapas, provided food to large communities in need and is involved in Greenpeace, Amnesty International and numerous human and ecological issues.
But despite their earnest ideological leanings, Maná show more than ever on Revolución de Amor that they’re about having a lot of rock and roll fun. Fher agrees that as much as he feels serious about his political commitments, he is a creature of passion. “If we like to talk about social change it’s because we feel that way,” said Fher. “More than anything we’re guided by a visceral instinct—we love Latin music, Latin women, and dancing. I’m a bohemian type that is inspired by going to the beach with a bottle of wine and a lovely lady.”
Revolución de Amor is that perfect picture postcard of Mexican vacation most Americans could use right away. But at the same time it’s a powerful melodic, rhythmic, emotional, and political statement about a music that’s coming into its own in the backyard parties and sizzling streets of America.