With the exception of Grammy performer Juanes, less commercial names with some sort of mainstream recognition among Grammy voters were the winners in the Grammys' Latin fields this year.
And, no, that wasn't a bad thing, as there were really no bad nominees to choose from; every album in the four Latin categories was a worthy contender.
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But it does show, once again, that mainstream Latin media doesn't necessarily reach the Grammy voter, and that the Grammy voter does not equate massive success in the Latin realm with quality, even when the quality is there for the taking.
This year's winners in the Best Latin Rock/Urban or Alternative Album was "Imaginaries" by Los Angeles based, quirky, alternative group Quetzal, whose mix of English, Spanish, folk and rock is as eclectic as the rhythm changes in their songs. They've been around for a while, but this year, they released the album on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, a label that may not sell or release much, but knows its way around the Grammy process. Quetzal beat out alt darlings Carla Morrison and Ana Tijoux, who've amassed plenty of press in the past year.
That upset is nothing compared to the Best Tropical Album Category, where not even a reduced list of finalists (four instead of five) could guarantee success for Romeo Santos, the top-selling Latin Artist of 2012 with his very fine "Formula, Vol. 1," which has toured arenas nationwide for the past two years. No way Grammy voters didn't know who this guy was. And yet, the prize went to Marlow Rosado y La Riqueña for "Retro," out on Pink Chaos Productions, an album that got a lot of insider Grammy support. Goes to show that a good strategy can be more effective than a ton of press.
The non-surprises of the evening were Juanes -- a perennial Grammy darling who this year participated wholeheartedly in many a pre Grammy event -- taking home Best Latin Pop Album for his "MTV Unplugged"; really, none of his contenders, good as they were, stood a chance.
And then, there was Lila Downs, who won Best Regional Mexican Album for "Pecados y Milagros," her first mariachi set. No way icons like Los Tucanes de Tijuana or norteño star Gerardo Ortiz were going to beat this diva -- one of the best-known Latin names in mainstream -- especially after she sang in the Latin Grammys and also wowed the Latin voter as well.
Winners aside, all eyes were on Juanes as he performed -- yes, a Spanish speaking Latin act finally performed -- on the Grammys. And, okay, it was a bilingual cover of Elton John's "Your Song," a total hand-out, peace offering, or call it what you may for those of us constantly griping that there's no Latin presence in the Grammys.
Was it enough? Hardly. But hey, it's a start.
- Latin Notas