The XIII Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards not only lived up to its billing as The Biggest Night in Latin Music, it proved to be the biggest party in Latin music with one dynamic musical performance after another. Taking place Nov. 15 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, the party certainly didn't stop for brother-and-sister pop/rock duo Jesse & Joy, who won four Latin GRAMMY Awards, including Song Of The Year award for "¡Corre!" Also picking up Latin GRAMMYs were Colombian superstar Juanes, Mexican singer/songwriter Carla Morrison, Puerto Rico reggaeton singer Don Omar, and Cuban trumpet player Arturo Sandoval, who won two awards each.
A nonstop party indeed. The telecast began in true epic fashion with Cuban-American rapper Pitbull's flashy Las Vegas-style spectacle. Surrounded by a bevy of dancing beauties, Pitbull emerged on a stage reminiscent of an old "sword-and-sandals" B movie and performed his hit single "Don't Stop The Party" from his new album Global Warming. The title of the song, of course, underscores the seemingly endless riches to be found in la música Latina and its myriad genres, many of which were on display throughout the evening.
Representing ranchera was veteran crooner Pedro Fernández. After an introduction by co-hosts Lucero and Cristián de la Fuente, Fernández appeared on a Mexican cantina-decorated stage singing "No Que No," a Latin pop song ripe with lilting tropical stylings. Representing Spain, and the younger generation, was Best New Artist nominee Pablo Alborán, who sang "Perdóname," a tender ballad about romantic forgiveness.
Latin music fans will remember this as a night during which history was made. For the first time ever, Latin rock pioneer Carlos Santana was joined by Juanes for a performance of "Fijate Bien," the title track from Juanes' debut album. Strapped with an orange electric guitar, Santana played some of his distinctive riffs while Juanes sang backed by a collective of soulful vocalists. The song sounded as vital as when it was first released 12 years ago. It's no wonder Juanes has continued to make his presence felt at the Latin GRAMMYs. He took home two awards bringing his grand career total to 19, tying Calle 13 for the most Latin GRAMMYs in history.
Perhaps one of the most versatile singer/songwriters, having penned songs in nearly every regional Mexican genre, Joan Sebastian appeared surrounded by a tuneful mariachi ensemble enriched by a saxophone player. His rendition of "Diséñame" from Un Lujo, an album recorded in collaboration with Lucero, was particularly romantic. Illustrating the most recent developments in thumping Latin electronica, Latin GRAMMY Best New Artist winners 3Ball MTY were joined by America Sierra, El Bebeto and LMFAO's Sky Blu for a tasty medley of dance pop, including "Inténtalo" and the ubiquitous "Party Rock Anthem," the latter of which had everyone shuffling.
It would be an oversight to deny the impact that electronica has had on popular music during the past 20 years, and the Latin genre is certainly no exception. Spanish producer/DJ Juan Magán has claimed a place of honor in the sphere of global electronica with remixes for the likes of Nelly Furtado and Paulina Rubio. Surrounded by a battalion of beautiful dancers, Magán performed bouncy renditions of "Se Vuelve Loca" and "No Sigue Modas."
Taking the party atmosphere down a notch, Spanish singer/songwriter Alejandro Sanz took the stage solo to perform a stunning version of the melancholy ballad "No Me Compares." A taste of Brazil provided a welcome change of pace with Michel Teló, who was backed by Las Vegas' Blue Man Group for a performance of "Ai Se Eu Te Pego."
Adding more Las Vegas flare to the show were Mexican brother-and-sister duo, and previous Latin GRAMMY Best New Artist winners, Jesse & Joy, who were joined by members of Vegas' Le Rêve for a delightful stripped-down performance of the Song Of The Year Latin GRAMMY-winning "¡Corre!" Next, it was time for everyone to experience the massive power of an authentic Afro-Caribbean orchestra. A true master of this format, Dominican singer/songwriter Juan Luis Guerra made everyone in the audience shake their hips with "En El Cielo No Hay Hospital," a rollicking merengue anchored on sticky sax riffs and syncopated tambora beats.
Following in the Spanish footsteps of her late mother Rocío Dúrcal, Shaila Dúrcal delighted the crowd with a raspy rendition of "El Día Que Me Fui," performed with the expert backing of the all-female Mariachi Divas De Cindy Shea. Fellow Spaniard David Bisbal delivered an expert combination of percolating flamenco pop with torrid Latin balladry on "Lloraré Las Penas," which was complemented by the visual accompaniment of the members from Le Rêve.
Bringing traditional salsa to the stage was Puerto Rican sonero Victor Manuelle, who performed the spiraling groove of "Si Tú Me Besas" backed by a classical string ensemble. Back to Mexican territory, one of the most visionary new voices in the genre, Gerardo Ortiz, known for his edgy brand of "progressive corridos," merged norteño with the tubas of banda sinaloense on an electrifying "Aquiles Afirmo."
Brazil's Caetano Veloso, the 2012 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, was introduced with a video montage that outlined his outstanding contributions to Latin music. A co-founder of the tropicália movement and a poetic singer/songwriter who combines samba and bossa nova with rock, reggae and other genres, Veloso appeared onstage looking elegant in a dark suit. Backed by musical director Cheche Alara and Sandoval, he delivered moving versions of "Capullito De Alelí" and "Odara," and was greeted with a standing ovation.
Much of this year's ceremony focused on the latest trends that allow Latin music to renew itself and remain as relevant as ever. But when Mexican singer Lila Downs was joined by 64-year-old Colombian diva Totó La Momposina and Mexican accordion master Celso Piña for a sumptuous reading of "Zapata Se Queda," the moment summed up The Latin Recording Academy's ongoing crusade to preserve the cultural legacy of Latin music. It is the understanding of the roots that allow young musicians to innovate, such as bachata hitmaster Prince Royce, who was joined by none other than Sebastian to perform "Incondicional," a hit tailor-made for the tropical dancefloor.
Fittingly, the show came full circle with a climax of bouncy beats and Latin rap madness featuring Pitbull. Joined by Dominican vocalist Sensato and Spanish DJ Sak Noel, the rapper performed a provocative version of mega-hit "Crazy People."
From the comforting strains of ranchera and bachata to the envelope-pushing soundscapes of electronica and hip-hop, this year's Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony painted a vivid picture of Latin music as a vast, ever-evolving canvas brimming with color, feeling and texture. A nonstop party indeed.