In a year where Latin has intermingled more than ever with mainstream, predicting Grammy winners in the Latin field has become a challenge.
In a year where Latin has intermingled more than ever with mainstream, predicting Grammy winners in the Latin field has become a challenge. That’s because Grammy voters tend to go for familiar names (to them). So an act that’s huge in the Latin world could pass undetected.
But this year, there are several names -- big and small -- that will ring a bell with a voting pool that’s perhaps more attuned than ever to what’s happening in the Latin realm. With that in mind, here’s out best shot at who will win this year. As always, these aren’t endorsements or even personal preferences; they are educated guesses based on past voting behavior!
Best Latin Pop Album: Alex Cuba, an indie act, has important name recognition in the Academy, among other things because he long collaborated as a writer with Nelly Furtado. And Alejandro Sanz is also a known quantity who’s won this award three times -- yes, three times -- before, most recently in 2010. But I’m going with Ricky Martin on this one (the other nominees are Pablo Alborán and Julieta Venegas). Not only because he’s the most memorable Latin act to ever get on the Grammy stage, but because this has been his year. A quien quiera escuchar was none of the top-selling albums of 2015 and also coincided with Martin’s stint as a coach and producer on La Banda, the Univision/Simon Cowell talent search for a boy group. And Martin has evolved into an artist with gravitas who clearly put thought behind each song included in this set. If there was ever a time to encore his legendary 1998 win for Vuelve, it’s now.
Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album: The Grammy Latin nominees are increasingly mimicking the Latin Grammys. Nowhere is this more evident than in this mishmash of genres category. Incredibly, in a year marked by Latin urban music success, the single urban act among the contenders is Pitbull, with his predominantly Spanish-language Dale. And Pitbull, too, is the lone Latin artist performing (to date) at the awards. But as mainstream as Pitbull is, it’s hard to imagine that in a Grammy competition voters would favor his kind of commercial music over the critically acclaimed contenders in this category. One is Natalia Lafourcade, who comes into play after being the lead winner at the Latin Grammys. But I’m placing my bets on electro-tropical Bomba Estéreo’s Amanecer. The group not only recorded a duet with Will Smith, but their irresistible beats placed them on multiple “Best-of” lists for 2015. That alone signals that many of the right people for this contest were listening. Musically, Monsieur Periné, who won the Best New Artist Latin Grammys, are worthy contenders but simply not well-known enough to garner voting steam. Much like the quirky, albeit cool-sounding La Cuneta Son Machín, unknown outside their native Nicaragua until they turned up here.
Best Regional Mexican Music Album: First of all, big kudos to La Maquinaria Norteña for getting into this list with their more Texas-influenced sound. It’s doubtful they’ll win, however, competing as they are with perennial favorites Banda El Recodo de Don Cruz Lizárraga, Los Tigres del Norte and Mariachi Los Camperos de Nato (the outliers in this group are Los Cojolites, which, by the way, are signed to the same label as La Cuneta Son Machín). I’m betting on Los Tigres. First, they seem to win almost every time they’re nominated for this award. Also, in an election year, where there’s big public awareness about the importance of human rights and voting, Los Tigres are the voice of a movement. They personify the immigrant experience in their songs and their appearance with Maná at the Latin Grammy awards further drove home the message that this is a socially-conscious band. And songs like the rivetting "La Bala," a corrido about gun violence, are too powerful to ignore
Best Tropical Latin Album: Ruben Blades will win this contest for Son de Panamá, an album he recorded with Roberto Delgado & Orchestra, even though the set was independently released, had no airplay and really, barely caused a bleep in the screen. But beyond his musical pedigree, Blades enters the fray with new impetus after joining the cast of Fear the Walking Dead. If a younger voting generating was unaware of his existence before, they’re very aware now. Son de Panamá too is a great album, full of big, complex arrangements and big, complex subject matter. Which doesn't’ take away from the other nominees, which in my opinion, make up the best Latin category this year. José Alberto “El Canario” teamed up with Cuban’s legendary Septeto Santiaguero for a superb album of Cuban music. Juan Luis Guerra’s adventuresome Todo a su hora manages to integrate everything from big band to Doo-Wop to danzón into his merengue and bachata; Victor Manuelle’s Que Suenen los tambores is his best set in years, a mix of hits and introspection; and Guaco is contemporary, tropical fusion with a touch of alternative. Blades will still win, but it’s worth everybody’s while to check out all the albums in this category.
Billboard | by Leila Cobo