Speaking out politically is a potential mine field for artists, with the potential to alienate large numbers of people — fans or potential fans alike — in one fell swoop. Politicizing oneself is a particularly sensitive act for Latin acts, whose work is heard across a myriad of diverse countries and cultures.
When it comes to U.S. politics, Latin acts who aren’t from here or don’t live here are often leery about speaking up. Not so for Fher Olvera, frontman for Maná, the hugely popular Mexican rock band that is also one of the top touring and top selling Latin acts of all time. To wit: Maná was the first act to publicly decry Trump’s derogatory comments about Mexicans and Latin Americans.
In an exclusive interview conducted between arena shows in the U.S., Olvera tells Billboard why him and his band felt the need to raise their voices.
Many people have minimized Trump’s comments by saying he’s not someone to be taken seriously. What do you say to that?
At the end of the day, he can be a “pendejo” [a fool] — he’s a guy whose head doesn’t work well — but he’s an important celebrity. And he makes such an aggressive reference to a race, it can’t pass unnoticed. We have to express what we think as Latins. I don’t think we should stay quiet. We have to express the truth: He’s a man full of violence and hate, and really, it’s obvious he dislikes Latins and Mexicans, even though many work for him. It’s an unfair posture from an ungrateful boss. We can’t keep quiet in a country where we’re trying to make a living.
Has Maná ever performed at a Donald Trump event or pageant?
We’ve never wanted to be there. They’ve invited us three times. Overall, Americans are also upset with such a racist attitudes. It was [excessive]]. I think he should apologize and do a formal press conference. It’ll be hard for him to get elected with this kind of rhetoric.
Maná is a group that’s very outspoken on different social issues. You’ve spoken out for access to birth control and also for immigration reform, for example. Is that your obligation as an artist?
There’s nothing wrong with artists not speaking up, and it’s their right [whether] to get involved or not. But in my personal opinion I wish they would, whether it be for political, social or philosophical reasons.
In a way, artists are like troubadours; they’re the voice of the people. Like Carlos Santana said, we are the hose that takes water to people. And I write songs that tell those stories. “Pobre Juan” (Poor Juan), for example, is a song about a real waiter who told me he’d spent 11 years here unable to go back to his family. It’s his story.
Why should artists speak out?
In the first place, because this country enjoys freedom of speech. It’s a beautiful thing. But we’re also speaking about a humanitarian issue. It’s not fair for a group to come here, to help build a country, and then be called trash. It’s a violation. And wherever there are violations, we should speak up. Whether in India or Venezuela. I’m not Venezuelan, but I’m not going to keep quiet about the terrible things that politicians have done there. We speak with respect, but we can see what’s happening, and it goes beyond politics. It’s a violation of human rights.