The contrasts in genres in terms of the awardees in the Latin music categories at the Grammys gives a hint of the depth and range of the wonderful universe of Latin music. Put your boots on and do the Tejano thing, get your salsa going, rock steady, jazz out or do all of the above. That´s part of what makes being a Latino great – you can loosely claim allegiance to 20-some countries and all their music. So check the videos as to the sounds from the Latin universe that the 53rd Grammys awarded the highest acclaim in 2011.
Best Tropical Album: “Viva la tradición”, by Spanish Harlem Orchestra
The thirteen seasoned veteranos of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra take home their second Grammy with this collection of original compositions and arrangements of classic salsa tunes, firmly establishing themselves as the centerpiece of both preserving and building upon the tradition of the hard hitting salsa of New York City in the seventies.
Best Tejano Album: “Recuerdos”, by Little Joe y La Familia
This solidly accordion-based music also known as Tex-Mex music spread wildly from its base with Mexican American populations of central and southern Texas during its heyday in the nineties. That has since subsided as other regional Mexican music surged in popularity, but Little Joe y la Familia still take their simple and sweet ballads, and adding a touch of rock, blues, folk and country, fire up enormous crowds to waltz and polka the night away.
Best Banda Album: “Enamórate de mí”, by El Güero y su Banda Centenario
Led by lead vocalist El Güero (I.e, “Blondie” – and he is), Banda Centenario exemplifies a type of regional Mexican music that has displaced Tejano in popularity. Seriously brass-heavy, possibly originally due to European military marching bands, it was born in the northern states of Mexico and brought to the U.S. with immigrants. Characterized by over-the top videos and seriously pop themes and hooks, banda is at the heart of the soundtrack to many immigrant lives today.
Best Rock Latino Album: “El existencial”, by Grupo Fantasma
Although placed in the category of Best Rock Latino, Austin, Texas Grupo Fantasma is truly omnivorous in their incorporation of Anglo, Afro, and Latino influences. In the hands of this tight ten-member ensemble with excellent levels of musicianship, the results are a slightly cowboy surf-rocky mix, that happily veers between funk, mambo, merengue, and cumbia.
Best Pop Latino Album: “Paraíso Express” by Alejandro Sanz
Alejandro Sanz, the iconic pop crooner from Madrid, Spain, takes home his third Grammy (he also has 16 Latin Grammy awards). Blessed with a velvety smooth voice, Sanz glides easily over the notes in melodies designed to sell, and that, they do.
Best Latin Jazz Album: “Chucho’s Steps”, by Chucho Valdés
Member of a world-renowned Cuban musical dynasty which includes father, Bebo, sister Mayra, and son Chuchito, Chucho along with his Afro-Jazz Messengers play homage in this CD to all of his influences that have taken him on his musical journey, step by step. Chucho described these influences in detail when Gozamos interviewed him at his home in Cuba, shortly before his last visit to Chicago.
Best New Artist: Esperanza Spalding
Admittedly, calling the super-talented 26 year-old Esperanza Spalding a “win” in the Latin category is a bit of a stretch, but we just can´t help ourselves – She is of Mexican, Welsh and African American descent, her pianist is Argentinean, and she does sing in Spanish and Portuguese in addition to English. To further justify our claim, we´ve included in this list a video of her exquisite take on an Argentinean folk melody.