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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Group's Message Separates Mana From 'Plastic' Bands

August 24, 1996|ENRIQUE LOPETEGUI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Long live women, and long live tequila!" singer Fher told the crowd near the end of Mana's show Thursday night at the Anaheim Convention Center. Minutes later, he asked the show's promoters not to bring to town anymore "plastic" groups "like Garibaldi, Kairo and Magneto: . . . them all!"

Because of its radio-friendly sound, Mana has been lambasted like no other group in Mexican rock history. And no other rock group has been more successful than the Guadalajara quartet.

But don't lump Mana, which is joined by keyboardist Juan Carlos Toribio on tour, with lightweights like the ones Fher mentioned.

Anglo writers have often compared Mana with the Police, perhaps because of Fher's vocal similarity to Sting and the group's reggae-flavored pop sound. The truth is, Mana ain't no Police. But it's not Garibaldi, either.

The addition last year of versatile guitarist Sergio Vallin gave the group a much-needed funky edge that perfectly complements Fher's sometimes corny melodic sense and drummer Alex's over-the-top showmanship.

But what makes Mana the biggest success in Mexican pop-rock history is that it was the first--if not the only--band to combine unoriginal but serious social commentary with mainstream entertainment values.

Mana's music borrows heavily from a wide variety of influences--everybody from Led Zeppelin to ranchera legend Antonio Aguilar, a fact often overlooked because of the band's mostly lightweight pop ballads and its anti-war ecological message (on a big screen, the group portrayed French President Jacques Chirac as a "world murderer"). The political overtones serve as a "you know, we're serious people here" kind of message.

That refusal to come across as Garibaldi-type clean-cuts is probably what has created a growing subculture of hard-core kids that shows up at Mana concerts but doesn't want anybody to know about it.

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