Just minutes after nominations for the 2022 Latin Grammy Awards were announced in September, Manuel Abud called all of the nominees in the best new artist category.
“One of our nominees was at school,” the Latin Recording Academy CEO says, referring to 15-year-old Yahritza Martinez, frontwoman of sierreño trio Yahritza y Su Esencia. “She stepped out to take my call and then went back to class.”
Artists don’t usually learn about their nominations in a personal call from the academy’s CEO. But Abud — who stepped into the new role in 2021, succeeding longtime president/CEO Gabriel Abaroa Jr. after 18 years — says a top priority is making the academy more accessible to the Latin music community. The goal is more participation and greater representation across what Abud calls the “four Gs”: geography, genre, gender and generation.
“Those four Gs need to be adequately represented in my membership, in my staff, in everything that we do,” he says.
Abud’s background is in TV, not music. He came to the academy as COO in 2019 after five years as president/CEO of Azteca America and was elevated to CEO at a time when the academy was under scrutiny, criticized by the reggaetón and regional Mexican artistic communities for lack of inclusion in the main categories. In response to that criticism — which included a Latin Grammys boycott by artists such as J Balvin in 2019 — the best reggaetón performance and best rap/hip-hop song categories were created for the 2020 edition. But to date, regional Mexican music has remained largely left out.
“It’s not something you can change in a day,” says Abud. “There’s only so much we can do as the academy to expose the different genres to the membership,” he says. “[But] I’ve been meeting with the regional Mexican community. I’ve invited them to be more active in the meetings, making sure
they understand how to get involved. We need to evolve the artists to be more participant and the membership to be more receptive.”
While change doesn’t happen overnight, Abud is launching new initiatives. The Latin Grammy Acoustic Sessions is a globally minded series of concerts that have included performances by artists such as El Fantasma, Becky G and Giulia Be and taken place in Mexico, Brazil and Spain ahead of the Latin Grammy ceremony on Nov. 17. Notably, the Mexican show featured exclusively regional Mexican acts. “These Acoustic Sessions, which represent the four Gs, are a first step to make sure we’re getting closer to every community.”
As one of the four Gs is “generation,” Abud has beefed up the digital side of the academy to reach Facebook and TikTok users. “My responsibility is to get our celebration to as many people as possible. Of course, we love our partnership with Univision, but it is a bigger picture now and we want to be everywhere.”
Also, Abud and his team are spotlighting the best new artist nominees with a first-ever showcase event during Latin Grammys week. “This year, there’s importance of nurturing future talent. You’ll see some of that in the actual ceremony, but I’m also very excited that we’ll be able to provide a platform to all nominees for best new artists.