Latin Grammy Live Updates: ‘Patria y Vida,’ a Cuban Protest Anthem, Rouses Crowd

by 24USATVNov. 19, 2021, 4 a.m. 19
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It was named song of the year. Bad Bunny, Karol G and Camilo all won awards, and Juliana Velásquez was named best new artist. Myke Towers, Grupo Firme and Christina Aguilera performed.

Marília Mendonça was killed on Nov. 5 in a small plane crash on her way to a concert in southeastern Brazil. Will Dias/Futura Press, via Associated Press The singer-songwriter Marília Mendonça, an icon of the Brazilian country music sertanejo, was killed on Nov. 5 in a small plane crash on her way to a concert in southeastern Brazil. She was 26. On Thursday, the Latin Grammys paid tribute to the musician, who was no stranger to the awards. In 2019, Mendonça’s “Todos os Cantos” won the Latin Grammy for best sertaneja music album. Two years earlier, her second LP, “Realidad,” received a nomination for the same category. Mendonça, known as “the queen of suffering” to her legions of fans for her sentimental songs that tell the stories of flawed characters, was Brazil’s most-listened-to artist on Spotify in 2020 and 2019. She was a star of both sertanejo and social media, with more than 41 million followers on Instagram, 22.8 million on YouTube and 8 million on Twitter. “The whole country receives in shock the news of the death of the young country singer Marília Mendonça, one of the greatest artists of her generation,” Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, said on Twitter earlier this month. “Who, with her unique voice, charisma and music won the affection and admiration of all of us.”

The singer Randy Malcom from Gente de Zona performs in Miami in July in a “Patria y Vida” shirt. MEXICO CITY — As thousands marched across Cuba last July in an astonishing protest against the Communist regime, many shouted and sang a common refrain: “Patria y vida!” or “Homeland and life!” The phrase comes from a rap song of the same name, which has become an anthem for a burgeoning movement of young people taking to the internet and to the streets, demanding an end to political oppression and economic misery. The song, written by Yotuel Romero, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Osorbo, Eliecer “el Funky” Márquez Duany and the reggaeton pair Gente de Zona, is nominated for two Latin Grammys, including song of the year, and will be performed on the show Thursday night. “These are the first Grammy Awards for the people of Cuba, the first Grammys for freedom,” Romero said in a phone interview from Miami. “These are the first Grammys where it’s not Yotuel nor Gente Zona that are nominated, it’s patria y vida, it’s Cuba.” The song is a rare instance of Cuban artists directly taking on the regime: The title is a twist on one of the most iconic slogans of the Cuban revolution, patria o muerte, (homeland or death), a phrase that Fidel Castro often used to end his speeches. “It was the antithesis of homeland or death — homeland and life,” Romero said. “I knew that phrase was going to bring a lot of controversy.” And generate controversy it did. After it was released in February, the song was heavily criticized by government figures like President Miguel Díaz-Canel and former culture minister Abel Prieto, who called the track a “musical pamphlet.” and wrote, “There’s nothing more sad than a chorus of annexationists attacking their homeland” on Twitter. But the official criticism did little to stem the song’s popularity. After decades of isolation, internet use became widespread in Cuba in 2018 — many young Cubans are now highly active on social media, where the anthem spread like wildfire. The accompanying video has been viewed more than 9 million times on YouTube. The song’s release came just a few months after hundreds of artists, intellectuals and others demonstrated outside the Ministry of Culture in Havana to protest a slew of recent arrests, including that of the rapper Denis Solís. “That protest transformed the narrative of the opposition in Cuba,” said Rafael Escalona, the director of the Cuban music magazine AM:PM. “There was fertile ground for someone to reap the fruits and create a protest anthem.” On July 11, “Patria y Vida” was transformed into a rallying cry, when Cuba witnessed its largest protests in decades, with Cubans protesting over power outages, food shortages and a lack of medicines. “This is my way of telling you, my people are crying out and I feel their voice,” the song says. “No more lies, my people ask for freedom. No more doctrines, let’s not sing of homeland or death but homeland and life.” Hundreds of people were jailed after the July demonstrations, and at least 40 more were detained on Monday as the regime moved to stifle another planned march. The risks extended to the songwriters too. While most of the artists who collaborated on the song were well known internationally before the track’s release and were also living outside of Cuba, Maykel Osorbo and El Funky still lived on the island: Both were arrested earlier this year, and Osorbo remains in jail. Romero, who lives in Miami, said that he cannot return to the island for fear of arrest. But despite the crackdown, Romero said he is confident that the emerging movement fomented by Cuba’s youth and given a soundtrack by “Patria y Vida” is only just getting started. “This is no longer a movement, it’s generation. It’s the generation patria y vida,” he said. “The generation patria y vida has come to bury the generation patria o muerte.”

Meet the nominees for a hotly watched category: best new artist. María Becerra is one of the 11 nominees for best new artist. The catchall term “Latin music,” grouping together everyone whose first language is Spanish or Portuguese, covers two continents (and sometimes a bit of Europe), making recordings that are released both within and across national borders. At the Latin Grammys, the best new artist category is one way for United States listeners to get early notice of emerging talent abroad — even though, this year, two nominees, the Dominican songwriter and author Rita Indiana and the Venezuelan songwriter Lasso, actually released their debut albums back in 2010. Here’s a quick guide to this year’s competition: The Brazilian pop-rock songwriter Giulia Be (Giulia Bourguignon Marinho) is set to perform on the Latin Grammy telecast. Her first Brazilian hit in 2019 was “Too Bad,” sung in English, but she switched to Portuguese for “Menina Solta” (“Girl on the Loose”), which has become one of Brazil’s most streamed songs since 2019. She has also collaborated with the American songwriter Pink Sweats. The Argentine vocalist María Becerra makes the kind of shimmering pop-reggaeton and relaxed R&B that commands the charts. Though she released her first EP in 2019, her 2021 debut album, “Animal,” put her on the map; she currently has nine features or solo songs on the Billboard Argentina Hot 100. The Argentine producer Bizarrap is a fixture in his country’s trap scene: His freestyle and music sessions, which have become YouTube favorites, showcase upcoming rappers’ lyrical skills over beats he produces himself. In 2021, he expanded his collaborators to include artists outside the borders of his home country and across Spanish-language hip-hop. Snow Tha Product’s session, a bilingual flood of barbs and punch lines from the Mexican American rapper, is also nominated for best rap/hip-hop song. Panama is central to the history of reggaeton, but it’s only recently that artists from the isthmus are getting back into the spotlight. Boza is one of the musicians leading the pack. His fluid reggaeton and glossy dancehall has made him a TikTok sensation; last year’s viral “Hecha Pa’ Mi,” which also appeared on his debut album “Más Negro Que Rojo,” has over 100 million YouTube views. Zoe Gotusso, a songwriter from Argentina, has a breathy, confiding voice; on her hit single “Ganas” and on her solo debut album from 2020, “Mi Primer Día Triste” (“My First Sad Day”), she floats it over largely acoustic folk-pop arrangements that often hint at South American rhythms. Humbe — the Mexican songwriter Humberto Rodríguez Terrazas — made his 2017 debut album, “Sonámbulo” (“Sleepwalker”) when he was 16. He wrote, produced and performed his second album, “Entropia” (“Entropy”), almost entirely on his own, backing his fervent high tenor with largely electronic arrangements and singing, in his hit “El Poeta” (“The Poet”), about a compulsion to make music. After garnering millions of plays on TikTok, Humbe has just released his second album of 2021, “Aurora,” a pandemic collaboration with Emiliano Rodríguez, his brother. Rita Indiana is a certified multihyphenate: one of the foremost figures of contemporary Caribbean literature, and also a force in Dominican music. Her debut album with the band Los Misterios dropped in 2010, establishing her as a cult figure in the Dominican underground. In 2020, she released “Mandinga Times,” her return to music after a decade focusing on her literary career; the album, co-produced by Calle 13’s Eduardo Cabra, is an irreverent, apocalyptic reinvention of gagá, reggaeton and other Afro-Caribbean sounds, sliced up with metal textures and piercing one-liners, like on “Como un Dragón”: “While you were writing a chorus, I wrote five novels.” Andrés Vicente Lazo Uslar, the Venezuelan songwriter who records as Lasso, has been making albums of earnest, upbeat pop-rock since 2010. On his latest, “Las Cuatro Estaciones” (“The Four Seasons”), he upholds the classic-rock ideal of a concept album, following the cycle of a yearlong romance. Born in New York to Chilean parents, the pop star Paloma Mami was 18 when she wrote her first song, “Not Steady” — a bilingual pop-dancehall hit that led her to become the first Chilean artist to sign to Sony Music Latin. Her debut album, “Sueños de Dalí,” elaborates on the sounds she’s been exploring since she was a teenager, blending bleeding-heart R&B with celestial reggaeton lust. The Mexican songwriter Marco Mares, born Marco Antonio Mares Díaz, breezes through styles from Mexico and beyond — ranchera, cumbia, bachata, reggae, even rapping — in genial songs about the ups and downs of love. Juliana Velásquez was a child actor on Colombian TV before emerging as a songwriter. She released her debut album, “Juliana,” in April, and it sets her whispery voice and haunted, vulnerable lyrics amid delicate acoustic arrangements one moment, startling electronic phantasmagoria the next.

Reggaeton has long been a Latin Grammys flash point. But this year, the controversy got personal. J Balvin onstage in October. When Latin Grammy nominations were announced this year, he tweeted to complain about the lack of representation for reggaeton. A few hours after the Latin Grammy nominations were announced in September, in a series of now-deleted tweets, the Colombian pop star J Balvin announced that reggaeton artists should boycott the awards. “The Grammys don’t value us, but they need us,” he wrote in Spanish. “Those who have power in the genre, NONE SHOULD GO! Which is to say everyone because we are a movement.” It’s a critique that dates back years, but one that has reignited as reggaeton continues to surge as a cultural force across the globe. Critics argue that the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences profits off reggaeton performances during the televised ceremony, but that the genre’s artists aren’t always nominated. (A similar conversation has flared at the English-language Grammys, as the show has struggled to wrestle with hip-hop’s cultural influence.) In 2005, The Times’s Kelefa Sanneh observed that reggaeton was curiously missing from the list of nominees for best album, despite being the year’s biggest commercial success story in Spanish-language music. Fast forward to 2019. Popular reggaeton artists, like Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam and Balvin, participated in a social media campaign against the Latin Grammys. When no reggaeton artists received nominations for any of the 10 major categories, several performers posted an image of a crossed-out gramophone on social media with the statement, “Sin reggaeton, no hay Latin Grammy,” or, “Without reggaeton, there is no Latin Grammy.” In April 2020, in what appeared to be a response to the backlash, the academy announced that best reggaeton performance would be added as a separate category. (Previously, the genre was nominated under the blanket categories of “urban music.”) The disagreement around the genre’s place in the awards flared once again when Balvin tweeted out his call for a boycott this year. But this time, it landed differently. The most fervent criticism came from the Puerto Rican rapper Residente, who has more than two dozen Latin Grammys, and posted an Instagram video that eventually mushroomed into a bitter online battle. In the clip, Residente explained that several reggaeton and rap artists, including Bad Bunny, Rauw Alejandro and Myke Towers, were recognized across the awards this year. He said that boycotting the show would be especially disrespectful to the salsa legend Rubén Blades, who is receiving the person of the year honor. But the real barbs arrived when Residente began to tear into Balvin’s music. “It’s as if a hot dog cart got offended because it can’t win a Michelin star,” he said in Spanish. Balvin simply responded by commenting, “I respect your opinion” on the post. Eventually, Residente deleted the video. But the saga was far from over. Balvin shared an Instagram post promoting a new line of fake merch, featuring cartoons of hot dogs and food carts. Residente, whose music is known for being fearlessly political, uploaded a second Instagram video, this time lambasting Balvin’s music, career and character, and claiming that he had helped Balvin craft a message for social media during protests against corruption and income inequality in Colombia last year. The spat seemed to end with Residente reposting his original video and silence from J Balvin. But the larger conversation surrounding their personal disagreement about reggaeton’s place at the Latin Grammys doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Christina Aguilera performed at the first Latin Grammys in 2000, and returned to its stage this year. Christina Aguilera didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. She was born in New York City; her Ecuadorean father divorced her mother, of mixed European ancestry, when she was 6. But in 2000 Aguilera sang in Spanish on an album, “Mi Reflejo,” that translated songs from her debut album and added a few new ones, becoming a major hit across Latin America; she also performed that year on the first Latin Grammy Awards show and won best female pop vocal album in 2001. Last month, she released a new Spanish-language single, “Pa Mis Muchachas” (“For My Girls”), featuring Nathy Peluso and Nicki Nicole from Argentina and Becky G, who was born in California to Mexican American parents; they’re scheduled to join her to perform it. It’s a frisky guaracha in praise of strong, fearless, insubordinate women, and while it’s not eligible for an award until next year, why wait?

Rubén Blades is the first Panamanian to be named the Latin Grammys person of the year. Chase Hall for The New York Times Rubén Blades, 73, was long overdue as a choice for the Latin Grammys’ person of the year. He happens to be the first Panamanian on a list that includes Shakira, Carlos Santana, Gloria Estefan, Juanes, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Plácido Domingo. From the 1970s on, Blades has brought literary innovation and musical fusions to salsa, and he has infused songs with sociopolitical ambition. He also earned a masters in international law at Harvard Law School and has had an extensive career as a movie and television actor. He has armloads of Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards. And he’s still drawing connections, lately between swing-era jazz and its not-always-acknowledged Afro-Caribbean sources. Blades is performing tonight with Roberto Delgado & Orquesta, the big band from Panama that backed him on his 2021 album “Salswing!,” still making history dance.

Juanes and Café Tacvba pay tribute to Juan Gabriel with ‘No Tengo Dinero.’ It has been more than five years since the death of Juan Gabriel, an artist known as Juanga who was effectively the musical heart of Mexico. His legacy is ineffable; his music has been a vehicle that generations have used to make sense of love, mourning, heartbreak and anguish, providing the soundtrack to quinceañeras, weddings, queer nightclubs. Tonight, the Colombian pop star Juanes is joining forces with Rubén Albarrán and Meme del Real of the Mexican rock band Café Tacvba to perform one of Juanga’s most beloved hits, “No Tengo Dinero.” It was Gabriel’s first single, a song that set the tone for an artist who would become a folk hero over the next five decades. The Colombian star Juanes, whose pop-rock balladry kicked off his career in the early ’00s, was once the lead singer of a thrash metal band, so he will likely blend well with members of a universally beloved Mexican rock group. Café Tacvba’s career-defining album “Re” redrew the boundaries of rock en español when it landed in 1994, colliding metal and ska with Mexican folk styles like huapango, norteño and banda. The Times’s Jon Pareles called it “the equivalent of the Beatles’ White Album for the Rock en Español movement.”

There aren’t many Black Latino performers at the Latin Grammys. It’s a problem. The Latin music industry has a race problem. For decades, the whitest and lightest-skinned artists have dominated the business, echoing the deep-rooted colorism that permeates TV, film and other entertainment industries. (See: the movie adaptation of “In the Heights” this past summer.) The Latin Grammys are not exempt; there are only seven Black Latino artists scheduled to take the stage at the televised awards ceremony Thursday night out of a total 46 announced acts. Over the last couple of years, discussions about the lack of Black Latino representation in Spanish-language pop music have concentrated around reggaeton, an Afro-diasporic style with roots in Puerto Rico, New York and Panama. Its earliest performers were largely Black Latinos, but as the genre has been brought under the umbrella of pop, its architects have largely been left behind. In 2019, after a group of artists announced a boycott of the Latin Grammys because reggaeton was largely left out of the nominations, critics online pointed out that the protest should also recognize that reggaeton wouldn’t exist without the Black Latinos who pioneered it. As one of the largest platforms for Spanish-language music in the United States, the Latin Grammys showcase dozens of genres rooted in Black Latin American traditions, but often the artists chosen to perform are white or lighter skinned, raising questions about whether the academy is doing enough to reflect the reality of the music it promotes. Not unlike the organization behind the English-language Grammys, the Latin academy is an institution that’s often criticized for being slow to respond to conversations about race, gender and identity.

The many sides of Ozuna. Ozuna was up for two awards at this 2021 Latin Grammys. Ozuna, the prolific Puerto Rican singer and songwriter who is up for two awards, presents himself as a lover who can also be a fighter. “Caramelo,” nominated as best reggaeton performance, savors an attractive woman’s sweetness and heat; it’s from his 2020 album “ENOC,” which is nominated as best urban album. “ENOC” starts with “Enemigos Ocultos” (“Hidden Enemies”), a posse track full of gun-toting threats, but for most of the album, Ozuna offers sweaty pleasures: dancing, come-ons, secret trysts, bedroom reunions. And while he has thrived singing reggaeton and Latin trap songs, since “ENOC” Ozuna has been pushing his music into different genres. Earlier this month, he released a Dominican-style bachata, “Señor Juez” (“Mr. Judge”), a duet with a major bachata innovator, Anthony Santos. He’s looking ahead.

C. Tangana is surrounding himself with leading flamenco guitarists and singers for his Latin Grammys performance. C. Tangana — born Antón Álvarez Alfaro — broke the genre confines of urbano music on his 2021 album “El Madrileño.” Reaching back to music from past generations and joined by a transcontinental assortment of collaborators, the album insisted that music from Spain shouldn’t be isolated or elitist. His Latin Grammys segment surrounds him again. To reclaim Spanish tradition, he has leading flamenco guitarists and singers: Antonio Carmona, Diego del Morao, Israel Fernández, La Húngara. And from the Americas he has the Uruguayan songwriter Jorge Drexler, the Mexican songwriter Natalia Lafourcade and the Mexican American songwriter Omar Apollo, whose duet with Tangana, the lovelorn ballad “Te Olvidaste” (“You Forgot”), is nominated for record of the year. His segment promises to cover a lot of stylistic ground.

For those who have been following his rise, the rapper Myke Towers’s ascendence in the Latin music industry might seem unlikely. Towers grew out of a new generation of Puerto Rican trap that has been percolating on the island since the mid-2010s. But as the years passed, he demonstrated his ambitions beyond the confines of his local scene, becoming a go-to creative partner for plenty of anodyne pop stars looking for some edge, like Becky G and Sebastián Yatra. While his features have foregrounded his love of melody and nostalgic hooks, he hasn’t lost sight of his hip-hop roots: Towers has a facility with both the honeyed sways of pop-reggaeton and a muscular capacity to rap. He is nominated for three awards this year: best urban song and best reggaeton song for “La Curiosidad,” and best urban music album for “Lyke Mike.”

The artist with the most nominations this year: Camilo. Camilo was an early winner at the Latin Grammys, with three awards at the preshow. The long-mustachio’d Colombian singer and songwriter Camilo, whose last name is Echeverry, has 10 nominations at the Latin Grammys — so many that in two top categories, record and song of the year, he is nominated twice. That’s because he has collaborated widely, helping write a song for his father-in-law, Ricardo Montaner, and slipping into the regional Mexican category with “Tuyo y Mio” (“Yours and Mine”), a song he wrote and recorded with a leading norteño band, Los Dos Carnales. It’s also because Camilo has a gift for succinct pop hooks and he’s thoroughly, charmingly wholesome, a counterweight to the braggadocio and bawdiness of some reggaeton and urbano. Camilo sings about grateful true love and modest expectations; “Vida de Rico” (“Rich Man’s Life”), nominated for record and song, offers kisses and beer rather than diamonds and champagne. Will his understatement be rewarded?

Selena Gomez earned her first Latin Grammy nomination this year. Selena Gomez released her first Spanish-language EP, “Revelación,” in March. Since 2009, Selena Gomez has put out three albums with the band the Scene and three solo studio LPs. In March, she did something she hadn’t done before: released her first Spanish-language EP, “Revelación.” In September, she was nominated for her first Grammy ever — the Latin Grammy for best short form music video for “De Una Vez” (“Once and for All”) which was released in January as her debut Spanish single. (She lost earlier tonight, to “Un Amor Eterno” by Marc Anthony.) “I am incredibly proud of my Latin background,” Gomez said in a statement at the time. “It felt empowering to sing in Spanish again.” The video, directed by Los Peréz and produced by Kim Dellara and Clark Jackson, has racked up over 84 million views on YouTube. It opens inside of Gomez’s heart as her literal heartbreak starts to heal, crystalline fragments stretching toward each other. “It doesn’t hurt me like before,” Gomez sings in Spanish. “The injury from your love has healed.” The seven-track “Revelación” also features Rauw Alejandro and Myke Towers (both also nominated for Latin Grammys this year). The EP peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart.

Camilo and C. Tangana have yet to go head-to-head. C. Tangana has two wins tonight, and will compete in several major categories that will be awarded on the main broadcast. It has already been a winning afternoon (in Las Vegas) for Camilo, from Colombia, and C. Tangana, from Spain. Each has so far dominated the multiple categories where they were nominated; they have yet to go head-to-head. For Camilo, the wins include best pop song for “Vida de Rico,” which he called “an exploration of who I am at my roots” in his speech, and best urban fusion/performance for “Tattoo (Remix)” with Rauw Alejandro. His producer, Edgar Barrera, was named producer of the year. Camilo also shared a songwriting award for best tropical song, “Dios Así Lo Quiso,” recorded by Juan Luis Guerra with Camilo’s father-in-law, Ricardo Montaner, who was also one of its songwriters — and who, after a four-decade career, finally got his first Latin Grammy with that song. C. Tangana benefited from the genre-hopping lineup of his album “El Madrileño,” which qualified him to win best alternative song for “Nominao” and best pop/rock song for “Hong Kong.” More than two dozen engineers shared the best engineered album award for “El Madrileño.” In prime time, Camilo and C. Tangana will be competing for top awards.

Camilo has three wins after the preshow awards ceremony. Camilo accepting the award for best pop vocal album. The winners of all but nine Latin Grammys categories were announced at a preshow ceremony ahead of the televised event, and Camilo is off to an early lead among the most nominated artists, with three wins. (He’s still up for record of the year, album of the year, song of the year and best pop vocal album, which will be awarded during the main ceremony.) Edgar Barrera and Alizz also have three wins apiece, followed by four artists with two trophies each: Juan Luis Guerra, C. Tangana, Jorge Drexler and Vicentico. And “Patria Y Vida,” a track that became a protest anthem over the summer, won best urban song.

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