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Juanes Sweeps With 5 Latin Grammys

Colombian singer cements his star status in Miami, a city that reveled in its role as host of the fourth annual awards event.

September 04, 2003|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — On a night when this city celebrated its role as capital of the Latin music industry, Colombian singer-songwriter Juanes consolidated his stature as the genre's leading star, sweeping the top categories in the fourth annual Latin Grammy Awards.

Juanes, who now lives in this multiethnic tropical metropolis, won trophies Wednesday in all five categories in which he was nominated, including best album, song and record of the year for his second solo work, "Un Dia Normal," and its sweet, romantic single "Es Por Ti." He also won for best rock solo vocal album and best rock song for the gritty "Mala Gente" (Bad People).

"I know a lot of times people have a bad image of my country," Juanes said, accepting an award. "That's why it's so important for me to be here, to represent the other side of Colombia."

With a slight swagger and an electric guitar slung across his waist, Juanes performed another track from the hit album "La Paga," along with the L.A. hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas, winning a standing ovation from the industry audience at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The crowd also cheered Bacilos, Miami's own folk-pop trio, which won for best pop album by a duo or group.

"We're the homies," said a member of the group when accepting the award.

That sense of hometown pride infused the atmosphere in this city, which has struggled with an image as a parochial town caught up in local politics. A successful show would go a long way to restore Miami's tarnished reputation.

Miami, corporate headquarters for many of the major Latin record labels, had long fought to host the Latin Grammys, the premier event in Latin music. The ceremony had been held in Los Angeles since its debut at Staples Center in 2000.

Originally, the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences refused to stage the show in Miami because of a county ordinance barring government agencies from doing business with groups that have dealings with Cuba. After the law was rescinded, the show was set for Miami in 2001, but planned protests over the attendance of Cuban artists forced a last-minute move to Los Angeles, where it was ultimately canceled after the attacks of Sept. 11.

The city had braced itself again this year for a confrontation over U.S-Cuba relations, as anti-Castro demonstrators and counter-demonstrators announced days in advance that protests would be held outside the arena. City and music industry officials said the event would be a test of Miami's new tolerance and political maturity in allowing all points of view.

But the test never materialized because the nominated Cuban artists did not get U.S. visas in time to travel here. Without a target in attendance, leaders of major anti-Castro groups canceled their formal protests on the eve of the telecast.

Still, about 200 people, pro and con, positioned three blocks apart, greeted arriving artists with competing chants and slogans -- "Music, yes. Censorship, no" and "Down with Castro."

Cuban officials and others have accused the Latin Grammy organization of sabotaging the Cuban nominees by failing to promptly send official letters of invitation needed for the visa process, a charge the organization denies.

"That's a lie," academy president Gabriel Abaroa said Wednesday. "I'm sorry if the post service is a little bit slower in one country or another, but all of our procedures apply equally to everybody [who was nominated]."

A coded protest was worked into the nationally televised two-hour show when host George Lopez, the popular Mexican American comedian, briefly wore a black shirt with white lettering that read "Cuba B.C.," which stands for "Before Castro."

Brazilian artist Gilberto Gil, honored as the academy's person of the year at a dinner here Tuesday night, expressed dismay in an interview Wednesday at the absence of his Cuban colleagues. Gil, recently named Brazil's minister of culture, blamed the long-standing U.S. embargo of the island.

"This is the residue of a horrible historic situation, the apartheid to which they have submitted Cuba in recent times," Gil said. "I think it's time to put an end to it, so Cuba can be incorporated into the Latin community, the American community."

As a symbol of the new Miami, the show could not have spotlighted a better example than Juanes, the once shy and skinny rocker who labored for years in relative anonymity in his native Colombia.

After catapulting to international fame in 2001 with a record seven Latin Grammy nominations (and three wins) for his debut album, "Fijate Bien," he moved here, joining fellow Miami settlers such as Puerto Rico's Ricky Martin, Spain's Julio Iglesias and Colombian Shakira.

The telecast began with a posthumous tribute to the queen of salsa, Celia Cruz.

Mexican punk-rap group Molotov won for best music video for "Frijolero" (Beaner), a radical choice for its depiction of racial hatred at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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