The winners of the 51st Grammy Awards will be announced this Sunday, and I wish I could give you the list of brilliant minds that snubbed Café Tacuba’s Sino (the best Spanish-language rock album of the last year, hands down) in the Latin Rock/Alternative category. Even in last November’s Latin Grammys, the Mexican fab four barely made it: They took only two gramophones, for Best Alternative Song and Best Rock Song, out of five nominations (the critically acclaimed album was ignored).
But the votes of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (and everything that goes on at its meetings) are secret, and for the most part nominees and winners are a reflection not of the contenders’ artistic merits (as the Academy’s charter indicates), but of the political weight, commercial interests, and momentum the particular artist has at that particular time. I bet you: If the Academy ever decides to release the voting record, the nominee and winner lists will improve dramatically, avoiding embarassments such as the one that took place in 1999.
That year, San Antonio native Chris Pérez (Selena’s widower and guitarist for Los Dinos) won the Latin Rock/Alternative album category, a few months after the rocanrol intelligentsia went berserk over the very nomination of the Chris Pérez Band, a group with virtually no history and with a Jurassic sound incapable of matching the inventiveness of the genre’s best. I took a chance and wrote that Pérez was going to win, because the only reason an album like that could be nominated was if it had enough votes to pull an upset.
Ten years later, another Texan band is well positioned to provoke the wrath of the establishment, but a victory by Grupo Fantasma should be considerably less controversial, and not just because 2008 was their best year and his majesty Prince gave the band his seal of approval.
Sonidos Gold is, undoubtedly, the best album by the cumbia-fusion combo. Even though I chose them as Best Band of 2004 in the annual Rumbo Austin (RIP) year-in-review piece, I must admit I never expected them to kick ass worldwide the way they did last year. Without making any value judgment of anybody’s artistry, if we strictly examine the albums by the other nominees GF will face this Sunday, a victory by GF doesn’t sound crazy at all.
Mexico’s Jaguares (45) have a slim chance of winning, but mainly because leader Saúl Hernández (formerly of influential Caifanes) has yet to win, despite many nominations. The album is fine, but if Jaguares win, it will be because NARAS owes Saúl one (and only one).
Miami’s Locos por Juana (La Verdad)? Forget it. It ain’t gonna happen. They share the cumbia passion with GF (although they have one foot planted in reggae), but young bands seldom win in the Latin categories, which tend to favor well-established acts.
Nortec Collective (a collective of DJs, programmers, and graphic designers with a cool mix of electronica and music from the north of Mexico) have an aggressive promotional machine behind them (led by label prez Tom Cookman, who turned once-obscure Los Fabulosos Cadillacs into a powerhouse), but Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich & Fussible is mainly a collection of individual songs by two key members of NC, hurriedly put together in a collaboration-album format.
The only album that is noticeably better than the other contenders and deserves to win is Ximena Sariñana’s Mediocre. The daughter of film director-producer Fernando Sariñana and screenwriter Carolina Rivera, the well-known actress is Mexico’s latest singer-songwriter phenom. Her jazzy album is a solid collection of songs produced by two of the top names in Latin alternative music: Tweety González (Soda Stereo, Fito Páez) and Juan Campodónico (Bajofondo Tango Club, El Cuarteto de Nos ... and yeah, I’ve written the liner notes for Bajofondo’s first three albums). She was nominated as Best New Artist in November’s Latin Grammys, but was beaten by Puerto Rico’s talented but less edgy Kany García. Perhaps this is the chance for NARAS to officially recognize an album that Rolling Stone gave a four-star review (fuck Rolling Stone; my point is the album is great, period).
Still, I have a good feeling about Grupo Fantasma’s chances. Musical differences aside, Sonidos Gold has the same ingredients as Los Fabulosos Cadillacs’ Fabulosos Calavera, the first winner in the Latin Rock/Alternative category launched in 1997: explosiveness, dance-friendliness, power ... all components that the Academy just looooves.
My heart says Ximena, but it’s hard to understand GF’s nomination unless they’re supposed to win. And if they do, for once I won’t be pissed. •
The 51st Grammy Awards will be broadcast live 7 p.m. Sunday, February 8, on CBS.