Mexican pop-rockers bring down the house


Oct. 28, 2002

Maná opened their concert at the Miami Arena on Friday night showing slides of anti-establishment political figures -- Gandhi, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, even Jesus Christ. But the ones who got the loudest applause were Bob Marley and John Lennon. When you're setting politics to a feel-good beat, it's the musicians who count the most.

And Maná most of all -- at least to judge by the screaming, waving, sold-out crowd that greeted them as if they'd dropped from heaven. ''This song is for all you young people who want to change things,'' said singer Fher to introduce Cuando los angeles lloran (When the Angels Cry), which decries the destruction of the Amazon forest.

This Mexican band has an earnest social consciousness that has almost entirely disappeared from American pop music, where most groups only stray from commercialism and escapism to scream about how angry they are. But Maná adds another key ingredient, the full-out emotional intensity that characterizes classic Mexican or Latin boleros. It's not anger that powers songs like Ana, about the perils of ignorance and unprotected sex, or El reloj cucú (Cuckoo Clock), about fathers who abandon their children, but the pain caused by social ills.

This blends right into the broken-hearted ecstasy of love songs like Ay doctor or Vivir sin aire (Living Without Air), the group's first big hit. And it gives their music a potent combination of righteousness and emotion. It was impossible not to be moved by the fervent reaction of the crowd.

There is a certain sameness to Maná's melodies and reggae-inflected rhythms. But Fher's high, intense, slightly nasal voice is both distinctive and full of feeling. The energy and musical muscle are supplied by wild man drummer Alex González, enthroned in an enormous drum kit behind Fher. Even on acoustic numbers his powerful playing gave definition to music that might have meandered otherwise, and his explosive solo was the energetic high point of the show.

When Carlos Santana made a surprise appearance for an encore rendition of Corazon espinado, his ferocious, jagged guitar added a whole new level of rock power. Maná can't quite match Santana's pure musical vitality, but they channeled his energy straight into a call for rights in Latin America in El muelle de San Blas. They took their final bows passing out roses while the Beatles' All You Need is Love played -- probably the only band in the world who could do so without any irony at all.