Looking past obvious mainstream bestsellers, voters in the fifth annual Latin Grammy nominations acknowledged the growing success of a wide range of alternative Latin music, from the edgy rock of Mexico's Cafe Tacuba to the flamenco-tinged boleros of Bebo Valdes and Diego El Cigala.
In nominations announced Wednesday, those artists will compete in the album of the year category against quirky American Argentinean singer-songwriter Kevin Johansen, Brazilian newcomer Maria Rita and Spanish pop veteran Alejandro Sanz.
Brazilian music was well represented in the top categories with two albums co-credited to producer Tom Capone, whose work earned six nominations, including best producer. Capone's work yielded two record of the year nominations: "Dois Rios" by Brazilian rockers Skank and "A Festa" by Rita, the daughter of Brazilian singer Elis Regina.
Rita's rhythmic, self-titled debut album generated seven nominations, the most for any work this year. They include a best Brazilian song nomination for "A Festa," written by Milton Nascimento.
Rita was also nominated for best new artist, along with reflective Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Obie Bermudez L.A.'s banda/rap duo Akwid and two tropical/rock fusion groups from Columbia, Superlitio and Mauricio & Palodeagua.
Sanz, who has dominated the awards in past years, emerges again with five nominations, the only artist to be named in all three top categories, for his complex and penetrating album "No Es lo Mismo." Aside from record, album and song of the year, the singer-songwriter's flamenco-tinged work also earned nods for best male pop vocal and best engineered album.
"People are going to get sick of me," Sanz joked by phone Wednesday from Madrid. "But one never gets used to good things."
This year, Sanz was the only big-name pop star to win major nominations, a significant reversal from past competitions. Singers Luis Miguel, Ricky Martin and Paulina Rubio, all traditionally big sellers, were relegated to one nomination each in secondary pop categories.
Top artists in Mexican music, the biggest-selling genre in the U.S., didn't get named beyond regional categories, which included minor nominations for major figures such as Vicente Fernandez, Pepe Aguilar, Lupillo Rivera and Los Tigres del Norte. Mexican artists and their labels have often complained about a lack of recognition from the Latin Grammys.
The nominations, announced at the Mayan nightclub in Los Angeles, capped the remarkable international ascent of "Lagrimas Negras," the collection of Latin classics transformed by the unique duo of octogenarian Cuban pianist Valdes and the young Gypsy singer El Cigala.
The album, released in Spain last year and only recently in the U.S., earned five nominations, including record and album of the year and best traditional tropical album.
"I'm very happy because I just didn't expect it to be this way, "said El Cigala, who was in Los Angeles for the announcement. "This is a very important step for flamenco, no? Because if we are able with this record to open borders and bring people closer to flamenco who never listened to the music before -- well, that's marvelous."
Ironically, the fusion album hailed for El Cigala's flamenco interpretations was not nominated in the flamenco category, which favors the more purist styles of Paco de Lucia, nominated for his glistening guitar on "Cositas Buenas."
"Lagrimas Negras" also helped earn a producer of the year nomination for producer Javier Limon, who worked on the De Lucia album, as well as a nod for engineer Pepe Loeches.
The nominations also marked a breakout year for two veteran Mexican rockers, Mexico City's Cafe Tacuba and singer Julieta Venegas, formerly with pioneering border punk band Tijuana No.
Cafe Tacuba received five nominations for its long-awaited new album, "Cuatro Caminos," including best alternative album and best song for the ethereal "Eres" by mild-mannered guitarist Emmanuel Del Real; "Eres" was also nominated for best rock song. The band's only previous nominations have been in rock categories.
"Every village church eventually gets its own fiesta," said the group's lead singer, Ruben Albarran. "We've been together 15 years now, and this recognition hopefully will help us continue to make music that satisfies us, not the market nor the expectations of a label. We've always done what our hearts dictate."
Venegas, a darling of the alt-Latino scene, captured her first major nominations for "Si," an album critically panned by rock purists as too pop and superficial compared with 2001's much-admired "Bueninvento."
She won nominations for song and record of the year for "Andar Conmigo," an almost adolescent, accordion-laced plea for love. Her album was also nominated for best rock solo vocal.
Venegas, Cafe Tacuba, Sanz, Rita and the duo of Valdes and Cigala will vie for record of the year with Robi Draco Rosa, who has launched a solo career after success as a writer-producer.
The Latin Grammy Awards debuted at Staples Center in 2000, and its early years were marked by political discord over the inclusion of artists from Cuba, which kept the awards show out of Miami, a stronghold of anti-Castro sentiment, for the first three years.
Compromise and cooler heads allowed the ceremony to be held in Miami last year for the first time, with protests but no major problems.
Comedian George Lopez will host the ceremony, which will be Sept. 1 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.