Maná: Our Life in 15 Songs - Rolling Stone
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Maná: Our Life in 15 Songs

From beachside ballads to protest rock, the Mexican legends tell the stories behind their greatest hits

Mexican rockers Maná speak to Rolling Stone about the songs that changed their lives. From left to right: Sergio Vallín, Fher Olvera, Alex González and Juan Calleros.

Mexican rockers Maná speak to Rolling Stone about the songs that changed their lives. From left to right: Sergio Vallín, Fher Olvera, Alex González and Juan Calleros.

Photo by Berny Flores

It’s hard to believe: but over 30 years ago, long before Maná became the unparalleled kings of rock en español, they nearly called it quits.

“Our record label told us there was no future for the band,” says drummer Alex González from New York’s Soho Grand Hotel, a few hours before Maná’s sold-out concert at Barclays Center in October. “[They said] rock en español was just a fad, and we should try another style of music. We felt gutted because of all the negativity.”

Comprised of Fher Olvera on vocals, Sergio Vallín on guitar, Juan Calleros on bass and González on drums, the Guadalajara band decided they were much too mighty to give up their dreams. They promptly ditched their old label, signed to Warner Music Latina, and went on to release their first-ever hit song, 1989’s “Rayando El Sol,” which would help light their path to superstardom. The band would go on to write many more memorable Latin rock anthems, from “Oye Mi Amor” to “En el Muelle de San Blas.”

But besides their knack for radio-ready, cinematic storytelling, the multi-Platinum rockers have also established themselves as environmental ambassadors and defenders of immigrant rights. They’ve established their Selva Negra Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to species preservation, environmental education and conservation; and more recently, a scholarship program for students who identify as Latino/a/x. “I see [our music] as a means to protest, to spread ideas and share them,” said frontman Olvera to Rolling Stone. “As a Latin group, Maná carries that [activist] ethos and that way of thinking.”

This winning formula of compassionate rock would earn them four Grammys, eight Latin Grammys, and a total of 10 Number One hits on the Billboard charts. “Fher has a way of telling stories that really connect with people,” says González. “[But] never in a million years did we imagine that we would have that kind of success. This is the first time we are touring internationally without a new album.”

Indeed, this year’s Rayando El Sol tour marks another career benchmark for the legendary band. Maná recently broke the record for playing (and selling out) The Forum a staggering seven times as part of a single tour: they are the only act in history to achieve this feat. Their final date at The Forum, the show that will close their tour, takes place on December 7th.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

1

“Rayando El Sol” (1989)

Alex González: We were going through a bad period. There was no work. The bands’ morale was all the way to the floor. We weren’t sure if we were going to make it. Our record label told us there was no future for the band, that rock en español was just a fad, and we should try another style of music. We felt gutted because of all the negativity.

Fher and I went back to our apartment around 6pm, bought two caguamas [or 40-ounce bottles of beer], pulled out our 4-track recorder, bass, acoustic guitar, and drum machine. We started messing around with the sound, groove, and melody and came up with the hook. We worked until 11pm and I went to bed, but Fher stayed up working until the early hours. When I woke up, Fher told me he had the lyrics. We listened to it on the playback from the 4-track, and I told Fher, “Wow! There’s a chance that maybe something will happen with this song.”

We took that demo to Warner Brothers in Mexico, and they liked it a lot. We got the budget to record Falta Amor. When the label started promoting that song, the radio stations weren’t playing it that much, but the fans started calling in, asking for it. It was this phenomenon, and it became a huge hit. We started to get phone calls to play in clubs and bars, and then we went on to bigger places. We toured behind that album from ‘89 through ‘91 throughout Mexico, and sold over one million copies. For these reasons, our 2019 tour is called Rayando El Sol. It’s the record that saved our career.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

2

“¿Dónde Jugarán Los Niños?” (1992)

Fher Olvera: “¿Dónde Jugarán Los Niños?” the title track of our 1992 album, talks about the environmental crisis that was starting to become more visible. The album, which the artwork also reflect, closes with the lyric, “Our power is growing more than our wisdom.” The album title — which back then might have not made a lot of sense because the environmental crisis wasn’t as bad as it is today — was a strange one. Our first albums reflected that sort of restlessness, and [¿Dónde Jugarán Los Niños?] became Maná’s first very successful album.

González: Fher wrote a story about a child talking to his grandfather. His grandfather told him about how it was back then when he was a kid, and how everything is now being destroyed. When we first performed it live, the band wore skull masks on stage. We try to make an impact visually. You never know, we could be playing in front of the future president, and they could feel inspired to make a change.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

3

“Oye Mi Amor” (1992)

González: “Oye Mi Amor,” one of our most covered songs by other bands, is a reggae-infused pop-rock anthem about a relationship. The music is very catchy, and we have also recorded it different versions. Those include a reggae remake, an unplugged version [1999’s MTV Unplugged] and have also performed it with different string arrangements on our 2007 Amar Es Combatir tour.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

4

“El Reloj Cucú” (1995)

Olvera: “El Reloj Cucú” was a story I had to write, which was stuck inside me since I was seven years old, due to the circumstances of my father dying. I’m the only son in a family of three women. It is a story of how my mother suffered, and her lack of an explanation to us — the impotence of not being able to give her children an answer to where their father was. It is an answer that is not [clear] to this day; we still don’t understand his death. It’s about how my father was no longer going to kiss me goodnight. I couldn’t break that silence until 1994, when I wrote the song. The first few years I couldn’t even sing it. My voice wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t perform it in concerts, and we decided not to sing it until much later after its release.

González: Fher wrote this song in memory of his father who passed away when he was a child. It’s also in honor of other fathers who unfortunately weren’t around.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

5

“Cuando Los Ángeles Lloran” (1995)

Olvera: “Cuando Los Ángeles Lloran” is the story of a Brazilian Amazonian activist [Chico Mendes] who strived to save the trees. He advocated for the preservation of the Amazon, for trees not to be cut down for wood, and to not prey on the jungle. But instead, to use the trees as an economic way of life for the people of the Amazon, by using them as a process called rubber tapping. If the tree was sliced, the latex was extracted without damaging the rubber tree. [Former Brazilian president] Collor De Mello’s government found out about this activist, and in the end, a clandestine armed group murdered him. The songs in this album are dedicated to him.

González: Fher was inspired by the story of Mendes when he read about it in the newspaper. When Maná first performed the song in São Paulo, Brazil, Mendes’ daughter attended the show. It was very emotional for us to see his daughter — given the story of her father — who was the inspiration behind the song.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

6

“Clavado En Un Bar” (1997)

González: The band always dreamed about recording an album next to the ocean. We rented a house in Conchas Chinas in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for two months. We recorded the drums in Los Angeles, brought all our equipment, and recorded the rest of the album there. It was an amazing experience because every day we had a view of the ocean. We would wake up every morning and go to the beach. We were very disciplined, working from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Then we would go out at night until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. During those nights out, Fher came up with the lyric, “clavado en un bar” (or “nailed to a bar”), this great uptempo rock song. Lyrically, Fher wanted to write a heartbreak song, like how in many mariachi songs [the protagonist] usually ends up in a cantina, drinking and lamenting, “why did she leave me!” — but in a rock version. Every time we play that song people go bonkers.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

7

“En El Muelle De San Blas” (1997)

González: Fher and I were writing the music, but we didn’t have the chorus yet. Then, we found the chorus in the demo. When we put it all together — with the bridge and the verses — we said, “Oh, ¡entró como mantequilla, bro!” (Or, “it slid in like butter!”) Before it was called “En El Muelle De San Blas,” it was called “Como Mantequilla” because the pieces fit so smoothly.

One night in Puerto Vallarta [before the lyrics were written], it was five o’clock in the morning, and we went out to this taco stand, which was a block away from the club we had gone to. There was this homeless lady with a really dirty white dress who was sweeping the street. Fher was intrigued by her, so he went to talk to her. She told Fher she was waiting for her fiancé to come back because he left on a ship a while ago. Fher was overcome by this woman’s hope, and she’s still wearing that same wedding dress. Fher went back and started writing the lyrics to this incredible story.

The song was also supposed to be titled, “En El Muelle de Puerto Vallarta,” but it didn’t work phonetically. Fher thought about another nearby port city and we decided on San Blas, where the music video was shot. In the city of San Blas, there was also another woman with a very similar story, whom dwellers called “the crazy woman from the town.” If you think about it, a lot of men in these port towns are fishermen. They had girlfriends and would promise them marriage, and when they would go out to sail, they never returned.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

8

“Chamán” (1997)

González: Fher and I wrote the music together, but before the lyrics, Fher had gone to Iquitos, Peru in the middle of the Amazon. To get there, you have to travel by boat through the middle of the jungle. Fher had an experience with a shaman. It was the real deal. He had these outer and inner experiences that made him more in contact with the earth and mother nature.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

9

“Corazón Espinado” (1999)

González: Fher gets a call from Carlos Santana saying, “Hey, man. This is Carlos Santana. Is this Fernando?”

Fher hangs up thinking it’s a practical joke. Then Carlos calls again and tells Fher, “Don’t hang up! I have your record Sueños Líquidos and I really love your band. I’m putting a new record together with Clive Davis, and I would love to have the participation of Maná on it.” Fernando was like, “Oh shit!”

Fher calls me right away with the news, and he soon began to write “Corazón Espinado.” Later on, the rest of the band comes in to hear it, and you can hear Santana’s influence, and we were like, “Wow.” It’s a very Latin song, musically and lyrically, about a romantic relationship gone bad. We recorded it, but when Santana puts his guitar on it, BOOM. We never imagined Supernatural would be the album that it became, winning Grammys, tying with Michael Jackson. We then went on tour with Santana, co-headlining with him, and Ozomatli were the openers. There are talks about doing another Maná and Santana tour in the near future.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

10

“Mariposa Traicionera” (2002)

González: “Mariposa Traicionera” is a lounge-y Mexican, almost Chicano-style of a song. Fher was describing a cheating woman — a social butterfly — but in a very poetic way. The video was filmed in this raunchy nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Well-known Argentinian actress [Julieta Díaz] portrayed the mariposa. We pushed the boundaries with that video. A lot of outlets censored it in Latin America, but we were just showing another reality.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

11

“Labios Compartidos” (2006)

González: We had been working non-stop since 1990 — releasing albums, doing press, touring. We had just finished a huge tour [the 2002 Revolución de Amor tour], which was the beginning of our major U.S. and international arena tours that would last up to one to two years at a time. We were really burnt out by that point, and we needed a break. On one hand, we were also writing a lot of songs, and on the other we needed a new manager to take things to the next level.

Then we met Angelo Medina, the man who managed Ricky Martin and propelled him towards international recognition. He managed a lot of solo artists but never a band. Angelo was already retired, and he came out of it to work with us. In 2005, we started working on new music again. We got back in the studio and recorded Amar es Combatir. “Labios Compartidos” was a home run. Fher wrote the song about a guy who — like the title suggests “shared lips” — was involved with a woman in a relationship. Fernando has a way of telling stories that really connects with people. People hear the lyrics he writes, and they almost feel like he has written about them or their own situations.

Olvera: I had a chorus to “Labios Compartidos” but I did not like it. During this time, recording technology was newer, and I wasn’t feeling the sound. So, I sent it all to hell, grabbed my guitar and a piece of paper. That’s how I finished the song, just plain rawness. It’s about an ex-girlfriend I had at that time, and our relationship was falling apart because of a third person. In 2007, the song earned [the Latin Grammy nomination for] Song of the Year.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

12

“El Dragón” (2011)

Olvera: Drama y Luz might be the most noteworthy album of Maná’s entire career, from a lyrical, poetic, and musical perspective — largely thanks to Sergio [Vallín’s] compositions, and the orchestral arrangements featured. It’s also one of the lesser-known albums of the band. It features a trilogy of songs which are eerily ironic to real life. It starts with “El Dragón,” about a teenage suicide that took place in Mexico City — a kid who threw himself onto the tracks of a moving subway. He suffered from drug addiction, and he was the brother of a friend of mine. This boy then becomes the protagonist of “El Espejo.”

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

13

“El Espejo” (2011)

Olvera: In “El Espejo,” the kid finds himself in front of a mirror and he goes through it. Once inside it, time changes. He enters into a convent of the Byzantine era, and everything begins to happen. Another character named Father Aurelio tells the boy that he will never be allowed to leave the convent. The boy wants to escape, so he flees and jumps over a high wall to the countryside and runs. The priests began to chase him with a pack of dogs until they capture him. They bring him back to the convent and they burn him alive at the stake.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

14

“Sor María” (2011)

Olvera: Father Aurelio gave the orders to kill the boy because they believed that he was possessed by the devil — since they saw him being from another time and speaking of things that made no sense to them. Later on, Father Aurelio falls in love inside the convent with a nun Sor María (or Sister María). The other nuns began to notice a love affair, a relationship happening. Father Aurelio tried to stop it, but he never could because love is that way. There’s a strophe in the song that goes, “A woman decisively in love stuns air, the universe and reason/If light enters water, it forgets the sky.” When light enters, everything else is forgotten. There is no reversal. That is love’s analogy. At the end, the two escape. They’re captured and shot down as they hold hands, like two trees that died standing.

Maná performs live at The Forum in Los Angeles, 2019.

Photo by Yeison Florez

15

“Somos Más Americanos” (2015)

González: Every record [we’ve made] has touched on a social issue, and the band has always been behind supporting the Latino community in the United States. For many years, we’ve been pushing for immigration reform. Instead of writing a new song, Fher had the idea to cover “Somos Más Americanos” by Los Tigres Del Norte, and we performed it with them at the 2015 Latin Grammys.

At the end of the day, I think it’s important to speak our mind as a band, and do whatever we can to contribute and give back to the Latino community. [For example,] Maná’s [Selva Negra Environmental Foundation] along with The Univisión Foundation awarded scholarships to fifteen winners between the ages of 18 and 35, who voiced their goals for the community. We’re going to fly them out to L.A. for the last show and bring them on stage.

Olvera: I see [our music] as a means to protest, to spread ideas and share them. As a Latin group, Maná carries that ethos and that way of thinking.

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