Maná in Heaven

For the guys in Maná, taking it on the chin from music critics isn't just an occupational hazard — it's a way of life. The band has been called everything from "overly earnest" to "heavily varnished" to plain old "fake." Ouch.

But much of the Maná-bashing can be diffused if all parties agree on one fact: Only by the loosest interpretation of the term (and even then only by the slimmest of margins) can Maná be called a rock band. Agreed? Good. Now if our temporarily placated critics would please leave the room, fans can survey the myriad reasons to celebrate the group's triumphant return to American Airlines Arena.

Maná originated in Guadalajara, the capital of Mexico's state of Jalisco. What's commonly referred to as the "Guadalajara metropolitan area" is only twenty percent smaller, by population, than Greater Miami. But please note: The days of sones jaliscienses and boleros (delivered by mariachis and horse-mounted balladeers) are long past.

Perhaps overcompensating for those colorful musicians of old, Maná has consistently cultivated a mainstream modern rock look. Outfits: mostly black. Hair: mostly long. Pants: mostly leather. (Yes, apparently a critic has snuck back into the room, looking for acknowledgment that the group also tries too hard to look like a rock band, to which Maná fans reply, "So what?") What fans really care about is the band's feel-good approach to music, a canny blend of Stingish pop and p.c. lyrics.

In its early days, having barely broken away from a cover-band repertoire, the quartet began recording for Fonovisa, a popular Spanish-language label. Image-conscious from the start, the band changed its name in 1986, from Sombrero Verde to the more mystical sounding Maná, a Polynesian word meaning "supernatural force." With Fher Olvera handling vocals and the Calleros brothers, Juan and Ulises, on bass and guitar respectively, they recruited talented drummer Alex González, of Cuban-Colombian origin. Later that year, the big labels came calling.

The band recorded an album for Polygram, then one for Warner Latin, Falta amor in 1990. Two years later, Maná released what would become its breakout album, the one that would eventually lead to party invitations from Luciano Pavarotti and collaborations with Bono. Dónde jugarán los niños? went platinum in 1993 and cemented Maná's international stardom.

The band had arrived. In the years to come, it would earn Grammys for best Latin rock/alternative album in 1999 (Sueños líquidos) and 2002 (Revolución de amor), along with five Latin Grammys.

More recently, Maná accomplished something no other Spanish-language group ever has. Its latest album, Amar es combatir, released last year, debuted at number four on the Billboard Top 200. That's not number on the Latin chart — that's number four period. Looking down from that perch last August, the group saw Paris Hilton's debut at number six, Nickelback at number twelve, and Gnarls Barkley at number seventeen. (The only acts higher up were Danity Kane, Outkast, and Christina Aguilera, in that order.) The disc then snagged another Grammy.

The quartet also has been stalking one of the all-time heavyweights of Latin record sales: Julio Iglesias. In 1987, when Iglesias jumped from number fourteen to number one with "Lo mejor de tu vida" on Billboard's "hot Latin songs" chart, he set the record for the biggest leap to the top in the chart's history. Twenty years later, Maná has shattered Iglesias's mark by soaring from number 22 to number one with the fourth number-one single of the band's career, "Manda una señal."

Maná produced "Señal," and the rest of Amar es combatir, at the fabled Hit Factory studio in North Miami. Now in its fourth decade, the Factory has been the studio of choice for John Lennon, U2, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, and dozens of other A-listers. Maná's use of the top South Florida studio is a luxury it can well afford. But the band members regard it as an investment in their fans. The location doesn't hurt either, because, in many ways, Miami is Maná's second home.

During its mammoth Revolución de amor world tour, Maná stopped in Miami twice — once in October 2002 and again in October 2003. The boys have come to Miami to celebrate every new release since, bathing in the adulation of local fans and the gratitude of giddy label execs at Warner Latina, headquartered on Miami Beach.

Maná's success is a direct function of its legendary work ethic. From 1991 to 2003 the band recorded and toured nonstop. Even during the Sombrero Verde days, the members dedicated themselves to honing a sound that would appeal to major labels. Since then, they have continued to reinvent their sound with each new album. On Sueños líquidos, they dabble in bossa nova and flamenco. The single "Corazón espinado" was the fruit of their collaboration with Carlos Santana in 1999, ending up on the Jalisco-born guitarist's Supernatural album. For Revolución de amor, Maná experimented with Sixties and Seventies instruments and technology.

All of these reworkings have served to keep their fans interested and loyal. But the critics have been, well, critical. War cries of "shallow" and "derivative" have become, over the years, familiar.

Luckily on the very same night as the first of two Maná shows at the AAA, there's another concert tailor-made for those critics. If the thought of 20,000 pumped-up Maná fans gathering downtown ruffles their feathers, they should take heart. Fleetwood Mac alum Lindsey Buckingham holds court at the Parker Playhouse, a comfortable distance away, in Broward. So guys: Grab your pencils, pads, and press passes, and head north, up I-95. Let the kids in Miami have their fun.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Andrés Solar