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'Good energy' at work
Rock group Mana makes the world its cause, stage
(CNN) -- They have sold out concerts worldwide, gone platinum, won a Grammy, released the sixth-best-selling "MTV Unplugged" album and recorded with Carlos Santana. What on earth is left for the rock-en-espanol band Mana to conquer?
The answer, say the band's members, is the same as the question: the Earth.
At the urging of lead singer Fernando "Fher" Olvera, Mana in September 1995 founded Fundacion Selva Negra (Black Forest Foundation) to tackle environmental issues. Olvera, drummer Alex Gonzalez, guitarist Sergio Vallin and bassist Juan Calleros have seen the literal fruits of their labors.
That initial project -- planting trees in Latin American countries that have suffered deforestation -- has grown into a full-fledged enterprise of global environmental activism.
Living up to its name
Selva Negra runs an education project, funds and supervises harvesting camps for endangered turtles, lobbies governments to protect other imperiled species and provides financial support for communities that have suffered natural disasters.
Mana, which means "good energy" in Polynesian, brings activism to other causes, too. The group has been involved with women's and human rights, says Gonzalez.
"There’s so many issues, but the problem is we can't cover them all," Gonzalez says. "We try to do as much as we can."
For members of the band, that means incorporating their message into the music. In 1992, they released their fourth album, "Donde Jugaran los Ninos?" ("Where Will the Children Play?") Next came "Vivir sin Aire," ("To Live Without Air") followed by "Cuando Los Angeles Lloran," ("When the Angels Cry") the album that eventually provided the name for Mana's foundation.
The album contained "Selva Negra," ("Black Forest") a song dedicated to environmentalist Chico Mendez. "Mendez was under death threats and the government didn't do anything to protect him, nor to protect the Amazon," Gonzalez says.
Politics in the musicMana has also brought politics to the stage. When it won the 1999 Grammy award for best Latin rock/alternative performance (for "Suenos Liquidos," or "Liquid Dreams") the band did not pick up the award.
The gesture was "a statement," Gonzalez says. "So many people in the United States make so much money off Latin music, and Latin music is not given the dignity it deserves."
The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences must have paid heed. On September 13, the academy will launch the inaugural Latin Grammy Awards, with an all-star celebration and honors ceremony
Mana has received recognition from other organizations, too. On April 27, the band's "MTV Unplugged" won best pop album at the Billboard Latin Music Awards, plus was given the Spirit of Hope. Given in memory of the late Tejano singer Selena, the award honors artists' humanitarian contributions.
No matter how popular Mana becomes, says Gonzalez, the quartet will remain true the "good energy" that drives it.
"Our main objective is to get the word out there to get people to work locally so they can affect it globally," Gonzalez says. "If we caused the problems, we have in our hands, also, the solution."
Santana revels in wins -- and so do Latin Grammy promoters
Official Mana site
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