Colombia played a relatively prominent role in LA on Sunday night, but the Latin music awards are still little more than an afterthought
Medellin rocker Juanes made history with the first ever entirely Spanish language performance at a Grammys ceremony on February 9, while Carlos Vives was the only one of four Colombian nominees to win an award, as he took home the Best Latin Tropical Album gong for his latest release Más Corazón Profundo.
With each passing year the Grammys appear more fashion show than any kind of celebration of music. Juanes therefore provided a refreshing relief from overblown costumes and dance routines by doing what he’s been doing his entire career: solid back-to-basics Latin pop rock, plus congas.
The fact Juanes sang in Spanish will have been particularly pleasing to his Colombian fans — his previous Grammy appearance in 2013 involved an awkward English-Spanish acoustic version of Elton John’s Your Song. This time his group performed Juntos, from the Disney film McFarland, USA.
Yet even if Juanes’ performance is a sign the times are a-changing, it still feels as though the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences should take the time to learn a little bit more about Latin American music.
A penny for the thoughts of whoever decided that “Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album” (by which they presumably mean any songs in Spanish that don’t sound like they have been written, rum in hand, on a Caribbean beach) was a fitting category of music award.
It led to a surreal competition between Chocó band Chocquibtown, Mexican rock group Molotov, Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, French-Chilean hip hop artist Ana Tijoux and Puerto Ricans Calle 13 for the same shiny gramophone. Calle 13 won the day for their production Multiviral.
Panamanian Rubén Blades, one of the greatest salsa singer-songwriters and musical social commentators ever, somehow found himself victorious in the “Best Latin Pop” category, pipping Juanes to the post. We’re not sure if you should laugh or cry in your celebrations, señor Blades.
Fellow salsa legends Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, were shoved into the “Best Latin Tropical Album” category for their 50th Anniversary Album, alongside Colombia’s Totó La Momposina, Miami-based PALO! and Cuban sonera Amyee Nuviola.
Given the bizarre categorising of Latin artists, it’s perhaps appropriate that Carlos Vives earned his Grammy by moving into bland, harmless pop — where his costeño roots are ever harder to trace. But few Colombians are likely to — or should — begrudge the Santa Marta-born singer another gong after such an influential career.
Elsewhere, Annie Lennox, who rarely puts a foot wrong, gave the performance of the night, Paul McCartney looked like an anonymous session guitarist on stage with a hardly coherent Kanye West and Rihanna, and Pharrell Williams did yet another version of Happy but received more attention for the multiple pairs of shorts he wore throughout the night.
By Olly West