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The New Spanish Conquest

Spain's Alejandro Sanz is the big winner, repeating last year's unheralded showing.


Spanish singer-songwriter Alejandro Sanz, deprived of the spotlight for his quadruple win in last year's Latin Grammy Awards when the ceremony was canceled after the attacks of Sept. 11, emerged a major winner again Wednesday night with three top awards in the annual Latin music competition--this time with a national TV audience watching.

Sanz, an unassuming superstar and family man, was honored for record, album and song of the year for his "MTV Unplugged," a live, acoustic performance of his carefully crafted romantic hits.

Sanz's sweep of the major categories, especially with an album of previously released material, was a clear upset over two other major artists with multiple nominations for new works in the same key categories--Cuban-born salsa queen Celia Cruz and Colombian vallenato star Carlos Vives.

Vives, who led the field with a total of six nominations, won two Latin Grammys--for best contemporary tropical album and tropical song, both for his new album, "Dejame Entrar." Veteran Cruz, considered a sentimental favorite, won for best salsa album for her album of souped-up salsa, "La Negra Tiene Tumbao."

In a night lacking in both electrifying performances and star-making moments, Cruz received the most expressive and affectionate reception from the music industry audience at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

"What a night!" exclaimed actor and co-host Jimmy Smits, following a performance by Cruz in her typically outlandish outfit and feathery headgear. "This isn't your grandma's CBS, that's for sure."

Some would say that's precisely the problem.

The 3-year-old Latin Grammy Awards, the first international spinoff of the original Grammys, have struggled from the start between the need to appeal to mainstream audiences for the telecast and the mission to search out and honor Latin music from around the world, regardless of U.S. commercial strength.

Although Wednesday's show featured so-called crossover superstars such as Colombian pop singer-songwriter Shakira and salsa heartthrob Marc Anthony, most of the other performers are still mostly unknown to the average American TV viewer. That put pressure on the artists to introduce themselves and make their mark, as Shakira did with her exotic performance during the first Latin Grammy show in 2000.

Yet there were no show-stopping performances during Wednesday's two-hour telecast. In fact, even Latin audiences may have been disappointed with the evening's musical performances, which often seemed slow, strained or simply uninteresting.

Even Shakira, perhaps the hottest contemporary Latin star, chose to perform a rather sedate, thoughtful song in Spanish instead of her catchy, hip-swiveling hit "Suerte," which won the Latin Grammy for best video.

Shakira's English-language album, "Laundry Service," which made her an international superstar this year, was not eligible for a Latin Grammy, which honors works that are at least 51% in Spanish or Portuguese.

The inaugural Latin Grammy telecast was described by the Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, parent of the Latin Recording Academy, as the first prime-time television show produced primarily in Spanish. While that's a legitimate landmark, it's also a drawback.

And while music may need no translation, as the cliche goes, the same cannot be said for acceptance speeches. The opportunity to communicate the character of the artists at an emotional moment was largely lost in translation.

"Excuse me, but I've got to talk to my people in Spanish," Shakira said before proceeding in Spanish to thank the usual list of family, associates and friends, as well as her native country.

Cruz, on the other hand, who normally exudes charm and humor in her native language, relied on broken English for her stilted acceptance speech, simply repeating her thank you over and over.

Producers attempted to bridge the cultural gap by inviting a few non-Latin stars to present some of the awards. But right at the show's outset, presenter Justin Timberlake of 'N Sync made the gap only more obvious by resorting to a long-outdated stereotype in referring to his female co-presenter, Leah Remini, as "my hot tamale."

Perhaps the most exciting moment came off-camera during the pre-telecast presentation of some awards handed out in 40 categories. Veteran Mexican singer Alejandra Guzman ran on stage and let out a big yell to accept the award for best female rock album for "Soy."

"Wow! It's great! I'm a believer!" said the always exuberant singer, still shaking and clutching tightly to her first Grammy. "I believe in God and I believe in the people that did this for me."

Other notable winners included Mexican mariachi star Vicente Fernandez for best ranchero album and Miami-based singer-songwriter Jorge Moreno for best new artist, a category that has quickly emerged as a bellwether of future stardom.

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