The 2018 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year gala, honoring Mexican band Maná, was an eclectic tribute to rock ‘n roll featuring unexpected performances that paid homage to the iconoclastic spirit of Latin music’s most popular and enduring rock band.
More importantly, it was an evening of songs at a time of singles, of melodies in an era of beats. As Maná lead singer Fher Olvera put it: “There is still music today. There are still love songs.”
Held at the Mandalay Bay arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday night (Nov. 14), the eve of the Latin Grammys, the sit-down dinner for over 1,000 marked the first time that the Academy honored a group with its fundraising gala. The evening’s performances, produced by Grammy winner Rafa Sardina with impeccable sound, also marked a departure, featuring a bounty of groups — not just soloists — that stuck close to Maná’s rock roots and spirit. The connecting thread of the evening came through references to Mana’s decades-long work for the environment and human rights through the group’s Selva Negra foundation, a message that tied with the Recording Academy’s fundraising work for music education.
The tone was set with a very edgy opening performance of “Adicto a tu amor” by Draco Rosa and violinist Ari Milikian — perhaps the strongest of the evening, setting a high bar. From that point on, the music of singer Fher Olvera, drummer Alex Gonzalez, guitarist Sergio Vallín and bassist Juan Calleros was treated to often sparkling re-dos, where rock n’ roll took a front seat alongside the band’s Caribbean leanings.
The success of tributes often depends on the repertoire, and Maná’s strongest suit is theg roup’s hits, built on strong, often gorgeous melodic lines and lyrics that run the gamut from romantic to socially conscious. The melodies allowed Pablo Alborán to sing a slow, pared-down version of “Rayando el sol” and Spanish rockers Vetusta Morla to perform a haunting rendition of “Cuando los ángeles lloran,” which served as a clarion call for environmental preservation.
“Thanks for such a necessary song in these dark times that threaten the Amazon,” said its lead singer.
Other standouts included a rock version of “Hechicera” with flamenco tinges by Colombian band Piso 21 and Brazilian singer Iza, and the grand finale: Spanish singer Beatriz Luengo, Mexican American singer La Marisoul and Australian singer-guitarist Orianthi’s rousing version of “Corazon espinado.”
Iza (center) and Piso 21 perform onstage at the Person of the Year Gala honoring Mana during the 19th annual Latin Grammy Awards at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Nov. 14, 2018 in Las Vegas.Roger Kisby/Getty Images
It was a fitting feminist tribute to a band that is known for its defense of women’s rights. “Thank you for being able to be bad boys and do rock, and at the same time treat women as both beautiful and important,” offered Luengo.
Then came Maná. One of Latin music’s highest-grossing touring acts, the group is known for its live performances, and the relative intimacy of this setting was a rare treat. So were Olvera’s words: “Wow, what versions you’ve played for us. It shows us there is still music today. Not just thumping music that puts women in such a sexualized position. Sexualization is fine, but perhaps I don’t share that mentality. I believe love still exists. There are still love songs.”