If anyone can keep up with the rhythm of the Israeli version of Dancing with the Stars, it's Maná. Not the heavenly foodstuff but the vibrant Grammy-winning Mexican rockers from Guadalajara, who will be performing their signature tune "Corazon Espinado" (Pierced Heart) on next week's quarterfinals broadcast.
Contestants such as children's party favorite Yuval Hamebulbal and Orna Datz may be bringing viewers to their feet in the show's seventh season, but the Latino quartet should get them moving, having conquered the rest of the world with their rhythm-happy mix of rock, Latin pop, reggae and ska with lyrics sung in Spanish.
After appearing on the July 7 broadcast, the band fly to perform at a festival in Milan and return to Tel Aviv on July 12 for their debut concert at the Nokia Arena.
“We’ve always wanted to come to Israel, but we thought it was nearly impossible,” said Maná’s longtime drummer Alex Gonzalez last week from the band’s conference room in their Guadalajara headquarters, which also houses a rehearsal space and a studio.
“We didn’t think people knew so much about Latin music, but the response we’ve received since we were invited to come has blown us away. Being on the TV show is going to be good and gain us huge exposure, but I think what we’re waiting for is the night we get onstage and interact with the Israeli fans at Nokia.
It’s going to be powerful,” he said.
Gonzalez’s tenure with the band dates back to the mid-1980s when he was only 15 years old and they were called Sombrero Verde. Vocalist José Fernando (Fher) Olvera, guitarist Ulysses Calleros and his brother Juan Diego, on bass, decided to form a new group based more on their native sound rather than the new wave-influenced rock of Sombrero Verde.
“I had been playing drums since I was five, so by 15 I could really play,” said Gonzalez, who acquired the nickname “Animal” for the way he would attack the skins during his solos (his fans affectionately bestow stuffed Muppet animal figures on him at shows).
“Fher had an idea to form a band whose foundation was still pop and rock but incorporated everything from Latin and Caribbean to world beat music – a band with a lot more fusion but still in essence a rock band,” he explained The idea proved to be not only sound but also timely. By the early 1990s, rock en español, or Spanish-language rock music, grabbed a huge audience in the US and evolved into one of the most popular and lasting forms of pop music, with everyone from Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez to Carlos Santana and The Gypsy Kings staking their crossover claim.
Maná rode the wave and made it to the top, with their 1992 album Dónde Jugarán los Niños? (Where Will the Children Play?) selling more than three million copies and becoming the biggest Spanish-language rock album of all time.
“The whole rock en español boom began in Spain and Argentina and moved over to Mexico,” said Gonzalez. “We were singing in Spanish, but we ran into some opposition from traditionalists who said you can’t play rock music in Spanish, it has to be in English. But we wanted to communicate with our fans in our country; it’s more important that they know what we’re talking about rather than singing in English because everyone else is doing it.”
So rather than conform to commercial interests, the band stuck to their Spanish guns, and rock en español took off with Maná in the pilot’s seat.
In a career now spanning more than three decades, they’ve sold 25 million records while earning four Grammy Awards, and seven Latin Grammy Awards. On their most recent albums like Revolución de Amor (2002), Amar Es Combatir (2007) and 2011’s Drama y Luz, Gonzalez has helped shape the band’s sound with co-production credits along with singer Olvera, a policy the band has followed since the beginning.
“We have a democratic approach, and it’s a great way to work,” he said. “It ensures that the idea that one of us brings will be there as true to the original idea as possible.
Ultimately, the great thing is that what’s coming from the artist is going straight to the listener – there’s no filter, nobody’s dictating what we should play, say or do,” he said.
“Back in 1989, we took a risk that was unheard of in those days – a band just starting out producing their own album. People thought we were crazy, but we think that it’s the best way to assure that what’s going to be created is the same thing that gets to the audience.”
While the band’s Nokia show is the main event of their two upcoming visits to Israel, they’re also looking forward to their performance on Dancing with the Stars, even though Gonzalez admitted that they’re not devoted viewers of the Mexican or American versions.
“I’ve seen it a couple times, and my daughters love the show because they love to dance,” he said.
As a drummer, who lays down the foundation for the band’s highly rhythmic music, Gonzalez could probably give some of the contestants a run for their money.
But he feels most comfortable running the show from behind his drum kit.
“The fact that we use so many different tempos and different fusions of music makes it interesting to me as a drummer,” he said. “Our music is so versatile, from slow and mid-tempo to very fast. – it’s never stalled and it’s always something different. But no matter what, I always try to keep my hands on the pulse and keep the beat going forward.”
That should get those stars dancing.