Natalia LaFourcade is tiny -- barely 5 feet tall. But at the 16th annual Latin Grammy Awards, she was mighty, taking home four awards: record of the year, song of the year and best alternative song for “Hasta la Raíz,” as well as best alternative album for Hasta la Raíz. The set of intimate, yet commercially appealing songs also won best engineered album.
Although LaFourcade is hardly a new act -- she’s 31 and in 2003, she was a best new artist nominee -- her win in major categories signals at the very least a breath of fresh air that goes beyond the urban beats that have ruled the charts and the names that have traditionally ruled the Latin Grammys' big wins.
“I feel I’ve been faithful to my convictions and my desires,” said LaFourcade when asked how she’s been able to be successful with more alternative music. “I’ve taken small, firm steps and I try to do things as beautiful and artistically as I can.”
Onstage, LaFourcade dedicated her win to Mexico and to Latin Americans. “Let's treasure our roots, even when we’re far away,” she said.
Cultural pride was a constant in the awards show, which aired live on the Univision network from the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
Second in number of wins was bachata icon Juan Luis Guerra, known for his often sublime mix of danceable and sophisticated; he won album of the year and best contemporary tropical album (beating out a bevy of much younger competitors) for Todo tiene su hora and best tropical song for “Por tus besos.”
“Honestly, this one took me by surprise. It was a very competitive category,” said Guerra, referring to his album of the year win, the only main category that didn’t go to LaFourcade. His inspiration, added Guerra, a devout Christian, came from God. “All my capability comes from him. And he continues to give me beautiful things,” he added, raising two of his three Grammys.
Another Latin Grammy favorite, Banda El Recodo de Don Cruz Lizárraga -- who play traditional Mexican banda music with elaborate arrangements -- won best banda album while their song “Todo tuyo” won best regional song. And singer/songwriter Leonel Garcia, nominated for six Latin Grammys, won two as a co-writer for LaFourcade’s “Hasta la Raíz.”
Given the state of the times, some politics seemed inevitable, and they came in with a satisfying bang.
Two Latin music icons -- Mexican rockers Maná (fresh from winning best pop/rock album for Cama Incendiada) and norteño kings Los Tigres del Norte -- in a way photo-bombed the show when, after their joint performance, they unfurled a banner that read: “United Latinos, Don’t Vote For Racists.”
Both onstage, during their acceptance speech, and backstage, talking to the media, Maná got specific.
“You have the opportunity to vote for someone who supports immigration reform,” said lead singer Fher Olvera, who has long been vocal about the topic. “There are over 50 million Latins in the U.S. It’s the country with the second largest Hispanic population in the world. There are many ways to craft fair immigration reform.”
Neither Maná nor Los Tigres actually lobbied for any candidate, nor did they mention the name Trump at any time.
“We’re simply saying vote for the most human candidate,” said Olvera.
Politics, however, mostly took a backseat to Latin pride, which was in constant evidence during a show rife with local cultural references and sometimes unexpected collaborations.
Colombia’s ChocQuibTown performed an urban blend of salsa and Pacific rhythms called “salsa choque.” Another Colombian band, Bomba Estereo, performed their single “Fiesta,” a mix of dance and folk beats, with Will Smith. J Balvin opened the show performing with Major Lazer and MO. And Nicky Jam closed the show with a vallenato/reggaeton performance alongside Silvestre Dangond.
And yes, Colombia had a very notable place in these Latin Grammys. In what was most definitely a surprise win, young, quirky Colombian trio Monsieur Periné, whose music is at times reminiscent of Postmodern Jukebox, won best new artist, despite the fact that their music is very little known here.
Another young Colombian trio, Diamante Eléctrico, won best rock album. J Balvin won best urban song for “Ay vamos” and Nicky Jam, an adopted Colombian of sorts, won best urban performance with Enrique Iglesias for “El perdón.”
Most of the 48 awards of the evening were doled out at the pre-telecast, billed this year as the “Premiere Awards,” which took place at the KA Theater in the MGM Grand.
Beside Guerra and LaFourcade, who collected early awards, Mexican star Pedro Fernandez won best ranchero album for Acaríciame el corazón, and exhorted the small audience to show their appreciation. “I want to hear that applause. It’s not easy to make an album!” he shouted good-naturedly, although much applause was spontaneously given to Colombian trio ChocQuibTown, who won best tropical fusion album for El Mismo. “We come from a very small place,” said member Tostao, referring to their impoverished home state of Chocó. “We work very hard to make our dreams come true.”
Other early winners included the videos for Calle 13's "Ojos Color Sol" -- which features Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal -- and Juanes' "Loco de Amor, La Historia," which won best short form video and best long from video, respectively. Both were coincidentally directed by Puerto Rico’s Kacho Lopez and produced by Tristiana Lopez.
Alex Cuba won for best singer/songwriter album for Healer and veteran Ruben Blades, who, with Roberto Delgado & Orchestra, won best salsa album for his independently produced and released Son de Panamá.
Cuba was also present in the Best traditional tropical album, Tributo a los compadres, no quiero llanto, by Dominican sonero Jose Alberto “El Canario” with Septeto Santiaguero. The set was recorded at Egrem’s studios in Havana.
Best rock album went to Colombian trio Diamante Eléctrico for their independently-produced B.
There were tears of joy; Alex Cuba cried when he dedicated his win to his wife Sara, who has a song bearing her name in the album. And there were also moments of sadness.
Sebastian Krys, who won Producer of the year for his work with multiple acts, including Alejandro Sanz’s multi-nominated album Sirope, dedicated his award to beloved Latin producer, songwriter and engineer Balta Hinojosa, who died last year of leukemia.
“We are all very fortunate to be here, doing what we do,” said Krys, accepting the award.