Translating an approach that has become familiar at the "regular" Grammys, the nominations announced Tuesday for the fourth annual Latin Grammy Awards are a careful mix of safe picks and bold moves, with room enough in the top categories for the accessible, always earnest rock of Juanes, the melodrama of Luis Miguel and the dark, socially questioning rap of Molotov.
The nominations were announced in Miami, where the ceremony will be staged on Sept. 3 and the community is still mourning Celia Cruz, the matriarch of salsa who died last week. Fittingly, her frequent producer, Sergio George, who worked on her upcoming album "Regalo del Alma," led all nominees with six, most for his work with the Miami-based trio Bacilos, whose pop-rock is tinged with tropical influences.
The Bacilos recording "Mi Primer Millon" will vie in the best record category with "Es Por Ti" by Colombian singer-songwriter Juanes; "Hasta Que Vuelvas" by Mexican sentimental crooner Luis Miguel; "Frijolero" by Molotov, also from Mexico; and "Ja Sei Namorar," a song off the debut effort by Brazilian supergroup Tribalistas. The acknowledgment in the marquee category of the musical boldness of Tribalistas and the edgy terrain of Molotov caught even the nominees by surprise. "I didn't think these awards were about music like ours," said Molotov member Tito Fuentes. "I thought it was about pop music and things that are packaged. We're surprised. And very excited."
Colombian rocker Juanes, who catapulted from obscurity two years ago with his surprising bounty of Latin Grammy nominations, was again one of the academy's darlings on Tuesday. The lanky, introspective singer's name was called in five categories, including best album, record and song. He now has 15 career nominations, the most in the short history of the awards show, and four wins.
"I don't know what to say. It's weird, unbelievable," the 29-year-old said Tuesday via phone from the South Florida ceremony. Reflecting on the Latin Grammy spotlight and its impact on his career, the singer added: "Three years ago I was the perfect unknown, nobody knew about Juanes. Then I got this incredible opportunity to share my music with a new audience. My music, I try to make it as honest as I can, direct from my heart and my soul. The Grammys helped me share it."
The five nods for Juanes were matched by Gustavo Santaolalla, the Argentina-born and Los Angeles-based guru of rock en espanol. (Another nomination went to Santaolalla's electronica collective, Bajofondo Tango Club, although it came incongruously in the category of best pop instrumental album despite the collection's notable vocals.)
Bacilos, a folk-rock trio formed by University of Miami students hailing from Puerto Rico, Brazil and Colombia, will contend for best album. Bacilos tracks hold two of the five spots in the song of the year race -- "Mi Primer Millon" earned a nod for its co-writers, producer George and Bacilos member Jorge Villamizar, and will compete with "Caraluna," penned solely by Villamizar. Bacilos as a group earned three nominations; Villamizar finished with three on his own; and five of George's nods were for his work on the Bacilos album.
The song category (where the award goes to the songwriter) is rounded out by "Es Por Ti" by Juanes; "En El 200" by young Mexican pop star Natalia Lafourcade; and "Tal Vez" by Franco De Vita, which was recorded by Ricky Martin on his album "Almas Del Silencio."
For Bacilos, the catchy "Mi Primer Millon" is proving to be a fitting theme song for the band; "My First Million" is about the travails and dreams of a struggling band. The group already enjoyed a spotlight at the "regular" Grammys -- "Caraluna" won best Latin pop album at the 45th annual Grammy Awards in New York City in February.
In the best new artist category, the nominees were David Brisbal, the Spaniard who is best known for winning his nation's television equivalent to "American Idol"; Lafourcade, the Mexican teen sensation; Fernanda Porto, the Brazilian songwriter who melds bossa nova with the synthetic beat of drum-and-bass; Tiziano Ferro, the Italian pop star and songwriter; and Alex Ubago, another pop singer hailing from Spain.
For best album, Bacilos and Juanes will contend with the hailed Brazilian collective Tribalistas, which teams the signature diva of modern Brazil, Marisa Monte, with celebrated percussionist and samba-reggae innovator Carlinhos Brown and Arnaldo Antunes, a founding member of the nation's seminal punk group Titas. The final two slots belong to Alexandre Pires, a young pop hero in Brazil, and the veteran of the field, Ruben Blades, the multifaceted, socially conscious salsa pioneer.
Recordings eligible for the fourth annual Latin Grammy Awards must have been released between April 1, 2002, and March 31 of this year. The show will be broadcast in the United States on CBS. The show will be staged for the first time in Miami, the city where political pressure from the Cuban exile community derailed early attempts to hold the gala there. That show ran into an even larger defeat when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, forced the cancellation of the broadcast that night in Los Angeles.
The show has failed to match the ratings of its inaugural edition and its permanent niche remains somewhat uncertain. Gabriel Abaroa, president of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, said Tuesday that he is not concerned about the state of the art ("There is great excitement about the music and an audience that loves it") but that he was dismayed to see the number of recording entries decline this year. He attributed it to industry malaise and music piracy.
The nominees and winners are selected by the Latin Recording Academy, which has 4,000 members. Voting membership is earned with credits on six commercially released tracks. For albums to be eligible, 51% must be in Spanish or Portuguese.
Calendar contributor Ernesto Lechner assisted with this report.
Album of the Year
Ruben Blades' "Mundo"
Juanes' "Un Dia Normal"
Alexandre Pires' "Estrella Guia"
Record of the Year
Bacilos' "Mi Primer Millon"
Juanes' "Es Por Ti"
Luis Miguel's "Hasta Que Vuelvas"
Tribalistas' "Ja Sei Namorar"