Flanked by such Latin music stars as Gloria Estefan and Elvis Crespo, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences President and CEO Michael Greene announced here Thursday that the first Latin Grammy Awards ceremony will be held in November of next year, either in Miami or Los Angeles.
The large assembly of musicians, ranging from jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval to members of the rock en espan~ol band Cafe Tacuba, cheered the news that NARAS is launching the new program to honor Latin music alongside its flagship Grammy Awards.
But that feeling isn't universal in the Latin music world. Some artists and industry observers believe that a separate Latin Grammy raises questions about segregation and fairness. Even some musicians at the press conference--including Estefan--diplomatically expressed concerns about how the new Grammys will be handled.
Speaking at the conference held here in connection with this week's giant MIDEM Americas music convention, Greene said the Latin Grammys--which will have 39 categories limited to music in Spanish and Portuguese--does not mean the end of the existing Latin categories in the regular Grammy Awards. He pointed out that five new Latin categories have been added to the regular Grammys in the past three years. In addition, he said the new Grammys would mean the Latin academy would be able to provide more educational and support programs for Latin musicians.
Thursday's announcement came one year ahead of schedule, but Greene said this had nothing to do with the so-called crossover success of Ricky Martin, whose explosive English-language career was launched on this year's regular Grammy telecast.
"Latin music doesn't have to cross over," Greene said. "It is Americans who are English-speaking who are going to cross over to Latin music. . . . What we are doing is allowing the people of the United States who are not familiar with Latin music to take a much more reserved, calm view of what these musical forms are. If you look at the diversity of musical forms in Latin America, the universe is twice as big in terms of genres as what the domestic Grammy honors."
The domestic Grammy Awards currently have 95 categories. Greene said that he expects the Latin Grammys to expand to 75 or 80 categories within two years, and says there finally will be a forum where Latin American classical, jazz and folkloric musicians can be appreciated.
The awards will be presented in a different country each year; host nations will have one year's notice to plan for the event, which Greene likened to the Olympics. Negotiations are underway for the television broadcast rights to the ceremony.
Nonetheless, the announcement drew criticism from assembled journalists and other artists, who pointed out, among other things, the lack of categories for non-Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin Americans, such as Haitians and Jamaicans, and the inability of many poor Latin American musicians to pay the fee to join the academy.
Manny S. Gonzalez, owner and publisher of Vista En L.A., a weekly Spanish-language entertainment newspaper in Los Angeles, said he feared the awards would be just another way for mogul Emilio Estefan to promote the artists he produces.
"Look at the artists who came today," Gonzalez said. "They all, in one way or another, make money for Emilio. That's not a coincidence."
Alicia Monsalve, editor of Al Borde, an L.A.-based magazine devoted to Spanish-language rock, said, "I really hope this isn't just another way to segregate us out of the mainstream," a concern that was echoed by Fernando Gonzalez, U.S. director for Sitio.com, an Internet music publication.