Long before being green was cool, global warming became a household term and recycling was mandatory in many communities, the members of Mexican rock group Mana had shown their concern for the environment and interest in advancing environmental education.
That concern turned into a major commitment in 1995 when the band’s Fernando Olvera, Alejandro Gonzalez, Ulises Calleros, Sergio VallÃn and Juan Calleros launched their Selva Negra (Black Jungle) ecological foundation as the social activism arm of their popular group.
The move was revolutionary in many ways. At the time, few, if any, Latin acts had formal, nonprofit foundations that formalized their philanthropic endeavors. Environmentalism as a cause was also less high-profile, and certainly so in Latin music.
But for Mana, the concern was real, and in 1995 it already showed in the group’s music, via the hit “Vivir Sin Aire,” a love song that also served as a metaphor for the environment.
Mana earned Billboard’s Spirit of Hope Award in 2000 due to its work in the environmental arena through Selva Negra. Today, more than a decade later, Mana will once again be honored with Billboard’s Spirit of Hope Award in recognition for the ongoing work of the organization, which has expanded far beyond its original scope of saving sea turtles–an endangered species–and now encompasses the environment, social development and the well being of the community as a whole.
“At the core of what we do is environmental education,” Selva Negra’s statement of purpose reads. “Through it, it is possible to conserve, rescue and encourage individual progress.”
In the past decade, Selva Negra has supported programs of reforestation, conservation and ecological responsibility, and worked directly with 3,000-plus families, in addition to spearheading national programs that are now implemented throughout Mexico, Selva Negra’s home base.
“All of us who form a part of Selva Negra are united by the utopia of building a country that is aware of its strengths, responsible for its habitat diversity and engaged with all its people,” says Mana lead singer Olvera, who acts as Selva Negra’s director along with drummer Gonzalez.
Aside from saving more than 2 million young sea turtles that had become stranded on land, Selva Negra points to numerous accomplishments during the past five years. It has helped develop a national program of environmental education that today is used in schools throughout Mexico, installed more than 2,000 alternative-fuel stoves to replace wood-burning stoves in poor communities, set up a water-saving farm system in 10 communities and guided land development in the Selva Negra region. It’s also launched the Selva Negra music school in Escobilla, Oaxaca, that benefits eight communities, and where students learn an instrument and participate in community tasks.
Mana’s environmental efforts have joined with the group’s unwavering support of immigration reform as well as the band members’ individual philanthropic projects.
“I always thought, ‘If we are the problem, well, we can also be the solution,'” Olvera says, explaining why he and his fellow band members support environmental causes. “And we used to think it was all about education. There’s a beautiful phrase at the entrance of the Chicago Aquarium that says, ‘You can’t love what you don’t know and you can’t know what hasn’t been taught to you.’ But there’s something even more important: ethics. Because even if we have the know-how to conserve, it won’t work if we don’t have the ethics. Knowing that one thing leads to another. We can’t be so pitiless, barreling through nature without leaving a healthy planet behind.”