Grammys 2016 Preview: The Lowdown on Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz and More Latin Acts Up for Grammy Honors

The Lowdown on Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz  and More Latin Acts Up for Grammy Honors
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The Lowdown on Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz  and More Latin Acts Up for Grammy Honors

Best Latin Pop Album

Pablo Alborán
Label Warner Music Latina

This 26-year-old singer-songwriter became a YouTube sensation in his native Spain via home videos he posted of himself singing and playing guitar. Since then, he has been Spain's top-selling artist for three consecutive years, delivering soulful songs with intricate lyrics and sophisticated arrangements. On Terral, Alborán's melodies are set to music equally influenced by classical and jazz. The album is Spain's best-seller of 2015, and it was Alborán's first to reach No. 1 on Latin Pop Albums.

Alex Cuba
Label Caracol Records

This Cuban-Canadian singer built his reputation co-writing with Nelly Furtado, including her single "Mi Plan," and he has channeled his skill at blending Latin and soulful mainstream sounds into a solo career. An accomplished guitarist, Cuba sings in both English and Spanish, mixing jazz chops and R&B soulfulness into his music. While his music tends to be a bit eclectic for U.S. Latin radio, Cuba is a Latin Academy favorite: He won a Latin Grammy in 2010 for best new artist and another in November for this album.

A Quien Quiera Escuchar (Deluxe Edition)
Ricky Martin
Label Sony Music Latin

Martin's 10th solo studio album -- A Quien Quiera Escuchar (Whoever Wants to Listen) -- brought the singer's resilient career to another peak, spawning three top 10 Hot Latin Songs hits and enjoying the biggest 2015 opening week of any album on the Latin charts. "In other albums we've spoken about human rights and subjects like that. Here, I wanted to talk about love and loss," Martin told Billboard. Stylistically, A Quien Quiera Escuchar runs from uptempo tracks ("La Mordidita") to heartbreak ballads ("Disparo al Corazon"), along with newfound touches of electronic and world music -- a byproduct, perhaps, of being conceived and recorded on four different continents.

Alejandro Sanz
Label Universal Music Latino

Few serious artists can call their first single "Un Zombie a la Interperie" (A Zombie Outdoors) and have a No. 2 Latin Pop Airplay hit, but Sanz has done it. Sirope, his fourth Top Latin Albums No. 1 (and his first alongside Sebastian Krys, who won the 2015 Latin Grammy for producer of the year), finds the raspy singer continuing to fuse flamenco with mainstream pop while also exploring new stylistic territory. Worth noting: Sanz has won this category three times since 2003.

Algo Sucede
Julieta Venegas
Label Sony Music Latin

The Mexican chanteuse, who won this category in 2006 with Limon y Sal, started out as a decidedly alternative act and has gradually become more mainstream without losing her saucy edge. Armed with her accordion -- an unusual instrument for a pop artist -- Algo Sucede finds the singer delivering songs inspired by her Mexican childhood as well as her country's current social reality. The album was produced by Yamil Rezec and Cachorro Lopez, the latter of whom produced Natalia Lafourcade's Grammy-nominated Hasta la Raiz. The title track became Venegas' first-ever No. 1 on Billboard's Latin Pop Airplay chart.

Best Latin Rock, Urban Or Alternative Album

Bomba Estéreo
Label Sony Music Latin

There are folk acts, electronic acts, dance acts -- and then there's Bomba Estereo, the pair that sparked the trend of fusing such genres together. The Colombian duo -- Simon Diaz and Li Saumet -- has built a strong following during the past decade, but there's little question that Amanecer was its breakthrough. Produced by Ricky Reed, the album features a bigger sound and stronger melodies than the pair's previous work, all of which helped lift the album to No. 17 on Top Latin Albums. Amanecer was a hit even before Will Smith fell in love with the single "Fiesta" and recorded a bilingual remix -- which peaked at No. 11 on Hot Latin Songs.

La Cuneta Son Machin
Label Round Whirled Records

The outlier of this category is the third album from the Nicaraguan collective with a name that's hard to pronounce (it's "la koo-netta sohn mah-cheen," and translates to "sidewalk sound machine," a play on Miami Sound Machine). The group's music is inspired by its home country's popular rhythms -- cumbia, son and polka -- and many of its songs are danceable party anthems. But La Cuneta also mixes in rock, funk and jazz, recalling Manu Chao and his cultural polyglot of sounds. Little known outside of Nicaragua, the act has never charted in the United States.

Hasta La Raiz
Natalia Lafourcade
Label Sony Music Latin

This Mexican singer-songwriter was the big winner of November's Latin Grammys, having collected four trophies for Hasta la Raiz, including record and song of the year for the title track. Lafourcade has a sweet, sultry voice that contrasts with the album's edgy acoustic arrangements; it's an unusual combination that led her album to the top of the charts in Mexico. In the United States, Hasta la Raizreached No. 6 on Latin Pop Albums; the title track reached No. 17 on Latin Pop Airplay. And although Lafourcade has seen three of her albums win Latin Grammys, she has never before won a Grammy.

Caja De Musica
Monsieur Perine
Label Sony Music Entertainment

Monsieur Perine is not a Frenchman but rather a sprawling collective that plays a mix of swing, alternative, pop and rhythms of its native Colombia. Coupled with a distinctive visual aesthetic -- its outfits hark back to the 1920s and 1930s with contemporary flourishes -- the group is like a Colombian postmodern jukebox. Monsieur Perine's 2012 indie debut, Hecho a Mano, brought the act a loyal following in its home country, but it upped the ante for Caja de Musica, teaming with producer Eduardo Cabra of rap duo Calle 13 -- and the album earned the group a Latin Grammy for best new artist, although the group has yet to chart in the United States.

Label Mr. 305/Sony Music Latin

In his first all-Spanish-language album since 2010's Armando, Pitbull does far more than simply rap. Dale -- which loosely translates to "Let's do it" -- runs the gamut from "Haciendo Ruido," a lush dance anthem featuring Ricky Martin, to the minimal "El Taxi." It also includes collaborations with rising acts like Gente de Zona, Osmani Garcia and Sensato, and feels like a long party where various friends come and go (and then come back for more). Dale is Pitbull's first album to reach No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums chart.

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of Billboard.

2016 Grammys