Maná: The Billboard Cover Story
Fher Olvera, lead singer of Mexican rock quartet Maná, lived with the music for weeks. Then a story came to him: A medieval nun cloistered behind convent walls falls deeply in love with a priest. Her passion is finally punished with death.
"I can't say exactly where I got the idea to write a song about this," Olvera says. "But I'd read a while ago a passage by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the poet nun who cut her hair and who fell profoundly in love. And I also saw a movie where the nun and the priest fall in love and they're shot to death. It's very magical how the music just leads you in different directions."
Music may lead Maná into sometimes surreal subject matter - but the essence of the Latin rock band made up of Olvera, drummer Alex Gonzalez, guitarist Sergio Vallin and bassist Juan Diego Calleros has remained constant for the past 20 years.
And Warner thinks it's going to sell as many copies of "Drama y Luz" as it did of Maná's last album-"Amar Es Combatir" sold 2.1 million copies worldwide, according to the label, at a time when music sales in most Latin countries had fallen to all-time lows. Now, some of those markets, including Brazil and Argentina, have seen a rise in music sales. "Drama y Luz" will be released in 40 countries, and Maná will promote it extensively beyond the United States and traditional Latin markets into Brazil, where it has a strong sales history, as well as Spain.
All songs on "Drama y Luz" were penned by some combination of Olvera and Gonzalez, who as usual produced the album, and also by Vallin, who for the first time served as co-producer. Ironically, the first single, "Lluvia al Corazon," was the last song to make it onto the album, recorded only in January after the band deemed the set not "cooked" enough. Written by Olvera and Vallin, it's an uptempo power-rock track that will premiere on pop radio stations around the world-more than 500 at press time-at a precise, yet-unannounced hour on March 14.
The track, which the group will perform live during the Billboard Latin Music Awards on April 28, is a departure from the midtempo rock that has defined many of Maná's biggest hits. "We felt it was the strongest, most impactful track," Warner Music Latin America VP of marketing Gabriella Martinez says. "And we felt it reflected the evolution of Maná but with the same magic that's characterized the group."
As strong as Maná's sales and touring have been for the past two decades, the group gained new impetus and radio support with "Amar Es Combatir," which aside from its tour numbers, yielded three No. 1s-"Labios Compartidos," "Bendita Tu Luz" and "Manda Una Señal"-on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart. Prior to that, the group had scored seven top 10s on the tally, but only one chart-topper (2003's "Mariposa Traicionera"). The surge can be attributed at least in part to the addition of Medina (who formerly worked with Ricky Martin), a veteran manager and concert promoter, to Maná's management team.
This time, aside from the single push, Maná will hold album signings and give acoustic performances in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Puerto Rico the week of release, with each event backed by a different radio network, including Univision Radio, Spanish Broadcasting System and Superestrella. Warner is also running an extensive ad campaign that will air on Univision and Telemundo as well as on ESPN. iTunes will release "Drama y Luz" as an iTunes LP with two bonus tracks, and Warner is negotiating with a mass merchant for another exclusive version. The label is also designing an online Maná game and interactive features that will allow fans to perform on the band's tracks online.
Sponsorship deals haven't yet been announced, but Medina is currently negotiating the band's tour and its sponsorships, both in the United States and abroad. Maná typically plays 120-140 shows per season, most of them in arenas and stadiums. The group kicks off the Drama y Luz tour June 1-2 at Mexico's Auditorio Nacional before launching its first U.S. leg that will include 25 arena shows.
As was the case with the Amar Es Combatir tour, Medina himself books the shows, which in turn are presented in different territories by different promoters. In the States, Maná is working with Live Nation and AEG as well as with independent promoters Henry Cardenas of Cardenas Marketing Network and Ari Kaduri, both of whom have worked with Maná for many years.
The group then travels through Latin America and Spain before returning to the United States and Mexico. Band members have asked that ticket prices remain the same as on the last tour, and in what has become a Maná tradition-and in sharp departure from any other major Latin act-not a single ticket will cost more than $100.
"I sound like a broken record about ticket prices but yes, I think it has everything to do with [their success]," AEG Live/Goldenvoice VP of Latin talent Rebeca Leon says. "They know their fans' threshold for tickets and they never go beyond that. This creates fan loyalty because they feel appreciated by the artist. I also think one of the main reasons they are so successful is because they have always seemed to see their career as a marathon, not a sprint. They take their time with things in order to make sure they are doing it right. That sends a message of confidence, which in turn makes people believe in them even more."
One of the songs that Maná will likely perform on the tour is "Latinoamericano," an anthemic track penned by Gonzalez-the only U.S. citizen in the group-that is a call to action against racism and discrimination and the only overtly social or political song on the new album.
Maná is one of the pioneers of social conscience in Latin music. The group's Selva Negra Foundation, created in 1995, works specifically with environmental efforts, including reforestation throughout Latin America, the upkeep of two turtle habitats in Mexico (more than 1 million of the creatures have been released to the sea), construction of low-income housing and work with multiple native Indian communities. Now, Maná is in the midst of its most ambitious environmental campaign, working with the Mexican government to create mandatory environmental and ethics classes in elementary school curriculum.
While Maná's message is subtly found in many of its songs, there's nothing nuanced about "Latinoamericano," which Gonzalez began writing in 2009. It dovetails with the group's vocal support of the United States' DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented college students.
"We don't really talk about [U.S.] politics because we're Mexican," Olvera says, noting that the band has nevertheless met with politicians like Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the matter. "But human rights are universal. And this is something we support. We're very connected to the Latins who are working here, who have left their families behind for a dream. We believe Maná has influence in this country, and can move its conscience a little bit."