Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Stealth" world music albums among the Grammy winners - Latin genres

Note: Links below will enable you to hear musical samples from the Grammy winners.

As promised in my previous entry, we move forward (excluding "Latin Jazz" categories, which may by now considered an integral part of mainstream American jazz) to some of the regional music categories which, in that they are unique to certain geographical areas, derive from a range of musical sub-cultures in the United States and Mexico and thus may fall under the world/folk/ethnic music rubrics.

The first group of categories in the Grammy Awards sequence under the "Latin" Field (#58: Latin Pop; #59: Latin Rock Or Alternative; and #60: Latin Urban), are sufficiently mainstream to be outside our purview here. The winners in the remaining "Latin" categories in more traditional styles are given below.

As suggested in my previous blogs on the Grammies, click on each album title (given first, in "quotation" marks) for some Web-based sample of music from the album nominated (you may have to click on "Listen to samples", or follow some similar prompt). Click on each artist's name (in
boldface, following the album title) for further biographical information, and in some cases, pictures of the artist(s). Finally, a link to the artist(s)' own Website is listed following the record company name.

61. Tropical Latin Album: The specification here (again from the Grammy Web page) is "This category is for all tropical (which Wikipedia defines as "a group of musical styles having their roots in Cuba, the Caribbean and Latin America genres") Latin albums, including salsa and merengue, (the latter being both dance as well as musical genres.) This year's winner was:

"Señor Bachata", by José Feliciano, on the Universal Music Latino label. Artist's Website.

Feliciano, a singer and guitarist with strong roots in Flamenco music, has been performing for decades, with numerous hits and seven previous Grammy Awards. I remember clearly from 1968 his first blockbuster hit,, "Light My Fire", a cover (meaning a performance, in his own interpretation, of a song written by someone else), of the The Doors' original dark and fiery version, which was used with eerie effectiveness, as perhaps the song best defining the Vietnam War era, in the soundtrack of director Francis Ford Coppola's seminal (i.e., groundbreaking and highly influential) cinematic masterpiece, Apocalypse Now.

62. Regional Mexican Album: This year two CDs tied for first place:

"Amor, Dolor Y Lágrimas: Música Ranchera" by Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, on Folkways Recordings. Artists' Website; and

"Canciones De Amor", by Mariachi Divas, on Shea Records/East Side Records. Artists' Website.

Both albums are in the Mariachi style, arguably Mexico's national (and most popular) instrumental ensemble genre, consisting of a unique combination of violins (usually three); three guitars of various sizes (including the small five-string vihuela and the large, bass-like guitarron); trumpets (usually two); at least one vocalist (often doubling as an instrumentalist); and an occasional harp. The music is lively and somewhat raucous. What is remarkable here is that the second group, Mariachi Divas, is an ensemble comprised entirely of women (hence the name "Divas") competing in what has been heretofore an almost exclusively masculine field. The group was founded by the protean trumpeter Cindy Shea, a Californian who is herself not of Latino ancestry.

63. Tejano Album: The genre of Tejano (also called Tex-Mex) is associated with a majority of the current Hispanic residents of the American state of Texas, as well as with the peoples traditionally residing in the Northern portions of Mexico. This year's Grammy winner in this category was:

"Viva La Revolucion", by Ruben Ramos and The Mexican Revolution, on Revolution Records. Artists' Website. There are three styles of Tejano, with Ramos' performance being in the "orchestral" style, with as its instrumentation bass, drum, electric guitar, synthesizer, a brass section , and occasionally an accordion.

64. Norteño Album: Norteño (literally, "Northern") music was the original genre from which Tejano (above) emerged, although it too has continued to evolve and develop new characteristics. A traditional band features the accordion (usually as the lead instrument) and a bajo sexto (a 12-string bass guitar), and sometimes a drum set, and an additional melodic instrument such as saxophone or electronic keyboard. The Wikipedia article has a number of musical examples in the different sub-styles of Tejano. This year's winner was:

"Raíces", by Los Tigres Del Norte, on Fonovisa records. Artists' Website. The group has won several previous Grammies.

65. Banda Album: In a Banda ensemble, the vocalist is supported by wind instruments--trumpet, trombone, and sousaphone among the "brass" section, and clarinet and sometimes saxophone among the "woodwinds",--while the rhythm is provided by a tambora, a bass drum with a cymbal on top; a tarola, which is a kind of metal snare drum similar to the tom-tom; cowbells; and cymbals. This year's winner was:

"No Es De Madera", by Joan Sebástian, on Musart/Balboa Records. His use of the Banda form is rather sophisticated, with accordion and strings added to the traditional instrumentation noted above. Like many of this year's winners, he was won several Grammies in the past.

Next week I'll address the winners in the "Folk" field (Traditional Folk , Contemporary Folk/Americana , Native American Music , and Zydeco or Cajun), as well as in the Reggae field/category.

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