Latin Grammy: reggaeton and the fall of the language wall

Critics of the Times talk about ‘Patria y vida’, the streaming revolution in Latin music, and how they prepare before the awards ceremony.

It is Tuesday and there is no time to lose. This is the express edition of our newsletter.


We need music: the ecstasy of dancing in a disco, the rapture of listening to a choir in an old church, the collective communion of attending a massive concert.

Now that pandemic restrictions are easing and more people are vaccinated, music is recovering its community character, what some call collective effervescence and that Adam Grant described in a recent column:

It’s feeling in tune when we dance together with strangers on a dance floor, when co-workers brainstorm, when cousins ​​are at a church service, or when teammates are on the field of play. And during this pandemic, this feeling has been conspicuous by its absence in our lives.

The impatience to re-experience it does not always have a happy ending. A couple of weeks ago, in Houston, during the concert of the rapper Travis Scott, the enthusiasm got out of control and left a balance of ten people dead, including minors. A chronicle of the concert collects the testimonies of some attendees and emergency personnel, including that of a person who said that the Houston police chief visited the singer before the performance and “He conveyed his concern for the energy of the crowd”.

Music has that ability to bring people together with unpredictable consequences.

For example, when we ask our subscribers to participate in a note about abba We learned that, thanks to her mother mistakenly buying her an album of the band in English, a follower in Colombia found her vocation as a language teacher. Someone else, from Córdoba, Argentina, told us that in his childhood he saw his aunt dance with her friends in a meadow of willows. We also learned that “Chiquitita” has been endearing to many people at weddings and love breaks. In fact, for a subscriber in California who cried when listening to the song, it was because of that song that her father hugged her for the only time in his life.

This Thursday they will be delivered the Latin Grammy Awards, a celebration of music in Spanish in the United States. I contacted Jon Pareles and Isabelia Herrera to discuss the award. Jon has been the Times’ chief pop music critic since 1988 and his music reviews are unmissable. Isabelia is part of the 2021-2022 generation of scholarship recipients of the newspaper as an art critic.

How are you preparing to cover the Latin Grammys this year?

JON PARELES: For me, the main thing in any awards ceremony is to listen to the nominees again. This year, the eligibility period for the Latin Grammys was from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021 and it has been a very long year and a half for everyone. I also watch the videos of the songs that are going to be presented during the show to see if it is a rehash of their visual communication or a reinvention. And I read about any intrigue, like the well-known underrepresentation of reggaeton at the Latin Grammys, to be attentive to how it unfolds during the awards ceremony.

What do you hope is the biggest difference from last year’s ceremony?

JON PARELES: Everything was different in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Latin Grammys returned to Miami, where they began two decades ago. A year ago there was no vaccine. This year the show returns to its usual home in Las Vegas. So it is possible that the production of the performances is more showy. Will have to see.

More seriously, the Latin Grammys, like most awards shows, have a cautious relationship with politics, although in the past they have showered the always frank of Calle 13. This year, the show will allocate a segment to an openly political declaration: “Patria y vida”, which was an unequivocal anthem of the protests in Cuba and is nominated for Song of the Year. It will be an intense moment.

Do you think that Latin music has acquired more global relevance? And if so, do you think that now, 20 years after its creation, the Grammy Awards have a greater cultural stature?

ISABELIA HERRERA: Without a doubt the streaming has introduced music in Spanish to new audiences across the globe. But the reality is that Latin music has always had cultural stature and importance to the communities that created it, even if English-speaking audiences have not paid attention to it or have not validated it with conventional success metrics. My hope is that someday Latin music will cease to be considered a “niche” or be segregated to certain spaces and communities. Latin music has always been part of the pop music scene even if the myth of language barriers has made some people not think so.

JON PARELES: Streaming, or streaming, showed the old guardians of the music business, such as record labels and radio, that the language barrier was not as great as they believed. It turns out that millions of people can enjoy Latin music – and K-pop and African rhythms – without understanding all the lyrics. There’s also machine translation and fan translations for anyone who wants to dig deeper. One goal of the Latin Grammys was to bring more recognition to Spanish and Portuguese music when most audiences in the United States were less aware of it; it was a worthwhile effort. While the Latin Grammys could hardly have predicted the explosion of online Latin music in the 21st century, they will now gain stature if they can attract that larger audience.

How do you discover new albums and interpreters in Spanish?

ISABELIA HERRERA: I’m always looking for new music on the platforms of streaming and I am fortunate to have a close community of friends, artists and songwriters who constantly bring me new releases. I’m a big fan of the podcast Songmess and his play list, which are updated weekly with news from independent artists from Latin America and the US And, while I hate to admit it, the Spotify algorithm is unfortunately quite effective at introducing me to music that I enjoy. One of my favorite albums of the year, although I came to it through friendships, is More expensive, an album by the Nicaraguan-Canadian producer More Aya that explores the political possibilities embedded in stillness.

JON PARELES: Every day in my mailbox there are dozens of songs and albums waiting for me to download them. I try to review as much as I can so, for the labels, inside or outside the United States, please keep sending music!



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Much has been written and said about the breakup of the Beatles. “I wish I could walk into a time machine and sit in the corner of the stage while they work,” said filmmaker Peter Jackson of the events in 1969 that led to the band’s disbandment.

Jackson, the award-winning director of The Lord of the rings He already had access to that time machine, when examining some 60 hours of unreleased video of the band to a new documentary series, Get back, which will air on Disney Plus from November 25 to 27. The production promises to challenge what we thought we knew about that chapter in musical history.

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Latin Grammy: reggaeton and the fall of the language wall