Controversy Over Latin Grammy Nominees


Reflecting long-standing tensions in the Latin music community, the head of Fonovisa--the largest independent Latin music label in the U.S.--is criticizing the new Latin Grammy Awards, alleging a bias against Mexican regional artists.

Anna Lorena, publicist and press representative for Fonovisa, confirmed statements made by the label’s general manager, Gilberto Moreno, which were published in La Opinion newspaper on Tuesday. Moreno said that the label, based in Van Nuys, will not support the new Latin Grammy Awards, which will be held at Staples Center on Sept. 13.

Moreno, who was traveling Tuesday and unavailable for comment, has accused the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which produces the Latin Grammys, of ignoring Mexican regional stars in favor of artists associated with Sony Music’s labels and Miami-based producer and Sony executive, Emilio Estefan.

“This is a party between Emilio Estefan and Sony,” Moreno told the newspaper. “This is an Estefan event, and we don’t want to take our artists to a show like that. . . . [The Latin Grammys] definitely don’t represent Latin artists at all.”

Fonovisa has urged its artists not to attend the Latin Grammys ceremony. The label has only five artists nominated, among the estimated 200 nominees in 40 Latin Grammy categories. All the Fonovisa artists are in the Mexican regional field, including Banda El Recodo for best banda performance; Ana Barbara, Conjunto Primavera and Los Temerarios for best grupero performance; and Los Tigres del Norte for best norteno performance. No Mexican regional acts from any label are nominated in the major categories, including album, record and song of the year.


The number of Fonovisa nominees strikes the label as too low given their status as the leading Mexican regional label in the world. Sony Discos--the largest Latin label--and its subsidiaries, meanwhile, have nominees in virtually every category, and often more than one.

Fonovisa representatives are also upset because, as reported in the current issue of Billboard magazine, the Latin Grammy telecast, scheduled for prime time on CBS, does not have any Mexican regional artists scheduled to perform--even though Mexican regional sales make up approximately 60% of the U.S. Latin music market.

Artists and academics have long complained that the popular Mexican regional genres are overlooked by many in the Latin music industry because the music is viewed as quaint, or corny, and is associated with working-class Mexican immigrants.

The Tigres del Norte Foundation, created by the hugely popular group, recently donated half a million dollars to UCLA to help combat stereotypes about Mexican folk music genres. UCLA ethnomusicology professor Steve Loza says flatly that the Latin industry’s disdain for Mexican regional music and preference for pop artists such as Ricky Martin is classist and racist.

According to former Billboard magazine Caribbean bureau chief John Lannert, Fonovisa has long complained about not being fairly represented in the Latin categories in the regular Grammy Awards, and says this newest complaint is a continuation of bad blood between the academies and the label.

“They always have a great showing on the Billboard charts, with great artists,” Lannert said Tuesday of Fonovisa, the world’s largest Mexican regional label. “So they’ve got a legitimate reason to be upset. But you have to ask whether they’re signing up their artists and voting in the Grammy process. It’s the old thing, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”

Sony and Estefan, Lannert said, are more organized than Fonovisa about signing up their artists and colleagues and rallying them around their artists.

But Moreno has said his label’s concerns are not limited to their artists, but are rather centered on the sense that the Latin Grammys are not adequately representing the reality of Latin music.

Moreno says that by featuring performers such as Jennifer Lopez and ‘N Sync in the Latin Grammy telecast, the Latin Academy is ignoring the fact that 60% of Latin music sales in the U.S. are of Mexican regional genres such as ranchera, banda and norteno.

Moreno blames the Latin Grammy imbalance on what he sees as close ties between the Latin Academy and Emilio Estefan, a Cuban exile. Estefan, a prolific producer, emerged as the person with the most Latin Grammy nominations, a fact that was announced in July by Latin Academy CEO and President Michael Greene at a press conference held at Estefan’s restaurant in Miami. Estefan will also be honored as the Latin Academy’s man of the year at a Beverly Hills dinner on Sept. 11.

Greene and his publicist Adam Sandler did not return phone calls by press time Tuesday, and Estefan was not available for comment.