MUSIC AWARDS Latin Grammy nominees reflect a return to roots

One insider says the industry is maturing.
They may be celebrating only their fifth anniversary, but the Latin Grammys are already growing up.
The inaugural edition of the Latin Grammys in 2000 was dominated by big names and crossover stars like Ricky Martin and Shakira. But every year since, they've become more adventurous. This year's nominations are well ahead of the commercial curve, an eclectic international cross-sampling of high-quality music mostly unknown in this country.
In a way, the awards, which will be broadcast live from Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium at 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday on CBS, are only following trends. In 2000, the Latin music industry had crossover fever and tropical pop dominated. Then the music industry crashed, the hit-driven multinational labels contracted, Latin musicians rediscovered their roots, and the world and the Internet explosion made everybody more musically self-sufficient. Now it's the nationalist rockers and fusion-makers and songwriters from every corner of the Latin world who are making the music that's making noise.
"The nominations are very eclectic, very profound, very widespread," says Gabriel Abaroa, president of the Latin Recording Academy. "The environment is different. Five years ago was the crossover boom. Well, times change. I think our credibility will always depend on if we reflect what is happening in the world."
"I think what we're seeing is not so much a rejection of the formula as a maturing of the Latin music business, and even more significantly the Latin music audience globally," says Michel Vega, who represents Latin musicians for the William Morris Talent Agency. "This is a sign that all of these different genres and types of music that have existed for a while are finally getting exposure."
"You've got to get to the point where the same names are not being repeated," says Tomas Cookman, founder of the Los Angeles based Latin Alternative Music Conference. "As our market matures and further defines itself, I think you will have space for more differences."
Compare the 2000 and 2004 nominees for Album of the Year, the big kahuna of categories. Four years ago it was Juan Luis Guerra, Luis Miguel, Shakira, Caetano Veloso, and Carlos Vives, all major stars with best-selling albums. Record of the Year included Marc Anthony's bilingual "Dimelo (I Need to Know)" and the Spanish version of Ricky Martin's crossover hit "Livin' La Vida Loca."
This year the only star in the Best Album category is Alejandro Sanz -- whose nuanced, flamenco-tinged pop made him an unlikely candidate for American stardom only a few years ago -- for "No Es Lo Mismo." The others are perpetually experimental Mexican rockers Cafe Tacuba's "Cuatro Caminos"; the eclectic Argentine-American Kevin Johansen's "Sur o no Sur"; the eponymous debut from newcomer Maria Rita, the Norah Jones of Brazil; and "Lagrimas Negras," an album of Latin classics from octogenarian Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes and Spanish flamenco singer Diego El Cigala. None has been a big seller in the U.S., although Maria Rita and "Lagrimas Negras" were hits in Brazil and Europe.
Not as commercial
"In the national Grammys, the criticism has always been that it's too aligned with sales," says Agustin Gurza, Latin music critic for the Los Angeles Times. "In the Latin Grammys it's sort of going in the other direction. The nominations are representative of artistic merit, and commercial considerations don't seem to play much of a role."
Perhaps they're not commercial now. But they could be soon. What once was radical is now mainstream: Juanes, one of the biggest stars in Latin music, was an obscure rocker when he got seven Latin Grammy nominations in 2001. Some predict "Lagrimas Negras" could achieve success like a group of elderly Cuban musicians did in the late '90s with "Buena Vista Social Club."

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