meta-scriptChicano Batman Talk Creating Visibility For 'Invisible People,' Representation Of Latinos In Media & Repping Los Angeles |
Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman

Photo: George Mays


Chicano Batman Talk Creating Visibility For 'Invisible People,' Representation Of Latinos In Media & Repping Los Angeles

The beloved L.A. psych/soul rock band dive deep into their powerful, danceable fourth studio album, 'Invisible People,' identity, racism and what the West Coast city means to them

GRAMMYs/Sep 4, 2020 - 11:25 pm

There is real power in music that gets you dancing, feeling joy and thinking about critical human issues. That is exactly what Chicano Batman's music does—drawing you in with their groovy bass lines, warm and soulful vocals and all-around funky, sun-soaked instrumentation and aesthetic. With their fourth studio album, Invisible People, released May 1 on ATO Reords, they double-down on the funkiness and deliver their most powerful, rhythmic project yet.

Founded in 2008 in Los Angeles, the four-piece embodies the true beauty, creativity and diversity of the city they call home. Since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2010, the band has brought their infectious energy and vibrancy to countless shows and festivals through Southern California, the U.S. and abroad, with a (typically) active tour schedule.

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With their 2020 tour with Le Butcherettes put on hold until 2021, the group has stayed busy with virtual appearances on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert," NPR's Tiny Desk, KEXP and more. They've also stayed engaged with their community despite quarantine, offering youth music workshop livestreams with the Young Musicians Foundation and a delicious fundraising taco at L.A.'s HomeState.

In conversation with, Bardo Martinez (lead vocals, keyboard and guitar), Carlos Arévalo (guitar), Gabriel Villa (drums) and Eduardo Arenas (bass) dive deep into the creative process and meaning behind their latest album. They get real about identity, racism and representation, and the marinization they have experienced as Latinos in the indie-rock space.

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You guys dropped the fourth Chicano Batman album, Invisible People, just back in May. What was the creative process like on this album? How long were you guys working on it?

Villa: A few years?

Arévalo: [Laughs.] A few years. Yes. That's it.

Villa: A few years. Next question. [Everyone laughs.]

Arévalo: Maybe 14 months.

Villa: We had to go on tour, so, we had to stop a little bit. We had writing sessions, but we basically started in 2018.

Arenas: In 2018, we talked about different ideas we wanted to introduce to the new record, and we did a lot of demos. At the end we chose 12 songs. Everybody kicked in on this one and helped develop it, where in the past the Bardo wrote the majority of the songs. This time Carlos was kicking in stuff, Bardo was kicking in stuff. I would join up forces with them and throw in stuff. There were all these different combinations of things that happened that we had not explored in the past.

Martinez: Recording was a big part of it, us using our home studios to record stuff and vibe that way.

Villa: Carlos, talk a little bit about that moment where you came into rehearsal and you were like, "Guys, I know we have to do this album, but wait listen!" [Everyone laughs.]

Arévalo: I had my own little idea of what I thought the record should be in terms of a theme or a direction. That's something I would keep to myself on the past records and then just have my own personal goals for my instrumentation. But this time I shared it aloud to the group. That's choppy waters you can get into because you're asking a drummer to play drums a certain way or a singer to sing a certain way. Well, it's more recommending or showing examples of like, "Hey, could we try it this way this time and see how that goes?" That was a vulnerable place to be. But I've known these guys for so many years, it was time for me to be real with them and hope for the best.

They were receptive, everybody needed a little bit of time at first to just take it in. Once we started trying out these ideas, everybody else started bringing in other stuff they'd been wanting to try before, but maybe never thought this was the project to do that. So, I got the juices flowing creatively for everyone. It was cool.

Martinez: Yeah, this record was a lot of push and pull, as it's always been with our music. It's four dudes in a band, so everybody's pushing for whatever ideas they had in their head. I mean, Carlos was pretty straight forward. He was like, "Well, we should make something we could dance to, danceable music." It was a great idea. It brought us into the late '70s and '80s in terms of aesthetics, in terms of sound—it was new territory for me. It was a lot of fun. It's a dope realm that we eventually got to.

Villa: It was definitely fun to create. The whole process was just fun, fun, fun, and a lot of communication. We learned a lot. We're always inspired and happy to be working with the team so it really, really paid off. You can hear it in the music. If you compare the Chicano Batman discography, you really hear that this album is so different from the rest. It definitely has that element of dancing—for the first time we're doing a lot of 16-notes. [Mimics fast drum beat.]

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Carlos, that idea you came in with, was it "dancing" music or something else?

Arévalo: I had started a little DJ night as an excuse to play records that I was collecting on the road with being on tour—you hit up shops in Michigan and you find amazing 45s that are just so overpriced in L.A. or that you can't even find them. I was playing once a month at bars and exploring what music has that universal appeal to people, that makes them want to get up and move or sing along. It's a cool way to experience music when you have the sound system at your behest. I was controlling the PA and it's bumping, I could control the bass. I could see what was going on from the mixer. That inspired me.

There's so many 45s that I love. I would play stuff like Talking Heads' "Naive Melody," Tom Tom Club. I'd play Prince's "Erotic City," that '80s music that had amazing songwriting appeal, but simultaneously were hit records. I feel that doesn't go hand-in-hand all the time anymore. Now, you have writers that get together to make a song sound exactly like this other song so it can be a hit and make money. It's about capitalism and it's about getting that publishing. Back then, it was more so you can make an art piece that was also danceable. It was really appealing and inspirational to me.

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When did you finish the album? Since you were working on it on and off, was there a period of time where you huddled up and finished all of it?

Arévalo: Yeah, so we started writing the record, like they said, in January 2018. And then we demoed it when we could and we started amassing demos amongst all of us. We had little sessions in between touring and we finally started recording the album in February 2019 at Barefoot Recording, which used to be called Crystal Industries. It's where Stevie Wonder recorded one of his epic '70s trilogy albums, Songs in the Key of Life, those amazing records where he found his synthesizer voice. So many hit records were made there. Sly Stone worked out of there and George Clinton. So, we made Invisible People there for two weeks and then Bardo flew to New York for another two weeks to do vocals and some overdubs. Then we had to wait a year to put it out.

Martinez: Well, it got mixed and we put all the music together. Leon Michels produced it. He definitely put his hand in the sound of it. He's an amazing producer [he's also worked with Lee Fields, Aloe Blacc, The Carters and others] and has an amazing hip-hop sensibility. He knows how to make everything knock. He definitely added some amazing vibes, and then he passed it over to [five-time GRAMMY winner] Shawn Everett who mixed it. So, that was the whole next process of, "okay, well he got the music" and we were in the dark for a week or month or so.

Once we received it, I'm telling you, for me, the summer of 2019 was lit, 'cause it was just blazing, f****ing listening, bumping that in my car. I had just moved into this house that I live in now. It was amazing. Imagine, you move into a new house and you're playing a new record. I had my friends over and it was amazing. It was perfect.

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The title track, "Invisible People" is really powerful and very pertinent to this moment we're in right now—calling out racism. Can you speak to the message behind this song and how you feel that it informs the rest of the album?

Marinez: We came up with a thesis statement, which was the title itself. Carlos was like, "How about we write a song about how the marginalization of Latinos?" "Invisible People"—for example, not being noticed in the indie music world or being on tour and feeling marginalized just entering spaces like the liquor store in Tennessee. That was one piece of it.

I started tackling different pieces in different verses, and I only have three verses. I wanted to make sure that whatever I was saying was going to be very strong and very poignant, straight to the point. I didn't have time to cut corners, so I was going to be direct with it. I wanted it to be as strong as possible because the music was set up that like that. We went into the studio and that song was [originally] a little bit faster and Leon suggested we slow it down. The instrumentation is super sparse. The beat is heavy, the bass drops on the kick in the perfect place. The music is there for the vocal to just shoot out.

I approached every verse as a different thing. My first line is, "Invisible people, we're tired of living in the dark. Everyone is trying to tear us apart." So, it's obviously pointing at some type of marginalization. It's not necessarily specific. The second line—"smoke a spliff so I could feel now"— I don't even smoke spliffs by the way, I like joints, but it was a homage to maybe Bob Marley or something I knew a lot of people were going to relate to. Something edgy, something cool. The next verse is about race, "The truth is we're all the same. The concept of race was implanted in your brain." I definitely wanted to call that out, race as a construct pretty much.

Also, just to challenge all of that because as a band, as, we're Chicano Batman. We decided to use this name, which has its own meanings as a Chicano, as an identity. I don't know if that's problematic, but it's going to challenge norms within our own community, and also in the superstructure status quo. That's the more obvious knot.

Also, anybody could be invisible in society. It wasn't "Just Latinos are invisible or just people of color." The privilege that White people have in this country is not good for them. When they walk onto the street, into the supermarket, there's a lot of psychological weight to all that history, to alter that reality which is based upon history, decades and centuries of oppression, that White people really have to deal with as well. Everybody, regardless of who you are, if you're living in a city, if you're living in society, you're a part of it. You're complicit in it. You're subjugated by it. People don't necessarily talk about it like that on Instagram. People on Instagram are just pointing fingers at each other. So, that's really not the goal of it. The goal is to be like, "Yo, the truth is we're all in this together." It's not some "We Are The World" shit. It's also, "This record is fire, we're spinning the world around you. We got this record, we're ready to tour and do it big." It's all those things wrapped into one.

Arenas: Piggybacking off what Bardo said about Instagram, they're probably not saying that on Instagram because White cops are too busy killing Black people and shooting them in the back. That's a reality that White privilege has led to, it's not only capitalism, but genocide. That's also what we have to live with today. Not only with religion, but with the way communities are divided, with the way we think, with our mental health as a people, with our communities and the disinvestment in them and the lack of education and resources. This is all very implicit and designed to be this way, to lack people of color of the resources while the few good resources go to the top. That's the system that we've been living under here in the United States for a very, very, very long time.

I think for me, "Invisible People" has a very open open-ended meaning, it's a very big concept, and I think it can definitely be understood differently in 10 years, in 30 more years, et cetera. But right now, to me, it speaks so much about the murder of innocent people, invisible people, who are our family members, our voices, our activists. They're actors of change in our society, the heroes. So, to me, we need to put some extra highlight on that at this moment right now.

Arévalo: For me, the idea for the song was explicitly about people of color and the struggle we've endured. I don't know how many bands has interviewed where they get pulled over by border patrol in Florida for driving in a tour van, but that's our experience. I don't know how many indie rock bands have gone through that. Dealing with stuff like that was in my mind when bringing up the idea of the song, and the lack of representation we see of Latinos in the media, you don't see us with parts of substance in movies or TV shows. It's always cliched, and it makes me sick, because we're multi-dimensional. We are more than caricatures.

So, that was part of the idea. Also, just tongue-in-cheek like, "Do you see us now? Here we are, this is our record. Will you acknowledge us yet?" Because there has been a hump of, people keep saying, "Chicano Batman is breaking through with this record, this rising band." And every time we put out a record, we're always this new band that's coming out of nowhere. So, it's a critique on that and how the status quo in the media views us.

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You've said "Color my life," which opens the album, is about experiencing nature versus being stuck in the city. Was there a specific experience, feeling or place that inspired this song?

Martinez: That's the first time somebody asked me where, what's the location. I appreciate the question. Honestly, it's Oakland. I lived in Oakland for a year and a half. That was the first thought, literally what I was thinking about when I was writing those verses. I had some lyrics that were taken out too. During the chorus, "You've got to color my life..." I had something about birds. Anyways, Oakland was definitely the place.

Do you feel now when you perform "Color my life" now, especially in a virtual setting like on the NPR's Tiny Desk, do you feel it has taken on new meaning?

Martinez: I'll be honest, it's hard for me to connect with the virtual stuff. It's difficult. I'm a little numbed by the whole virtual reality experience. But what's the new meaning? I just went to the forest recently, to Mammoth for four days with my family. I needed to do that. Honestly, it's been a long time since I've actually gone camping or anything that because of doing the music thing and touring. This pandemic has given me the opportunity to do some of that. I want to do it more often because it's the most freeing thing, just to be out in nature, it's fantastic.

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"L.A. is what I carry with me all the time... It's what I try to represent in my music, at least respective to the instrument that I play and the swagger I input and the way I want people to move. We want them to feel that this is the way L.A. moves you, when we're in Germany, Brazil or France. It doesn't matter where, it's rooted in L.A. and L.A. is international because our roots are deep." -Eduardo Arenas

As a Los Angeles band, what does the city mean to all of you?

Arévalo: It's a forever home for me. My dad immigrated from El Salvador and lived in an apartment complex in Hollywood and went to Hollywood High, which I can't even imagine—what a dichotomy that must have been. My mom is third generation Mexican-American, so her family's been here since the '20s and they all have roots and stories that come from L.A. It's always been a big part of who I am and where I come from. I still have family that lives out there and also family that lives in L.A. It's an important part of my identity.

Villa: For me, L.A. feels like home. I come from very far away. I was born and raised in Colombia and I've traveled around the world. I had the opportunity and was so lucky to able to go to Europe and live there before coming to the United States. I lived over there for many years. Coming to L.A. straight from Toulouse, France was a big cultural shock for me, learning all these new set of laws and lifestyles. And there's a lot of things I probably will never understand, like the freeway, but L.A. is special, it has so much, it's a place for everyone. I feel it's a big blender and that's something that I like about this city. When I was in France and went to Paris and rode the Metro and saw all these different cultures together, I was like, "This is good. I want to live in a city this."

And I ended up living in L.A., and you have the same feeling just like riding on a Metro in Paris. It's like a dream and every day I'm learning something new. There's a lot going on here in terms of opportunities and work, especially music and media. It's crazy. I'm super glad and lucky to have found my brothers here. The band has embraced me as a Chicano, as a brother, and that's the world for me. Yes, I feel home.

Arenas: I'm born and raised in L.A., I'm from the generation of kids that used to walk to the market and get a gallon of milk and a pack of tortillas. That's how I grew up. I used to sell flowers in the street on Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. We used to sell fruit and vegetables that we'd get, extras from the produce market in downtown L.A. and resell them on the streets. L.A. is me.

I grew up with Hollywood movies and TV shows, all this '80s and '90s action stuff—the vanity that comes with that. And the vision of wanting to be something else that also comes with that. Like Carlos was saying, there's no representation of Latinos on TV, especially when you're growing up in the '80s and '90s, only dumbasses or a donkey mother****ers. Or some, "arriba, arriba" type shit, which we tossed around as culture when we were kids because we don't know better. But, in a lot of places in the country, they still perceive it like that.

L.A. is what I carry with me all the time, even when I lived in Brazil and Panama. It's what I try to represent in my music, at least respective to the instrument that I play and the swagger I input and the way I want people to move. We want them to feel that this is the way L.A. moves you, when we're in Germany, Brazil or France. It doesn't matter where, it's rooted in L.A. and L.A. is international because our roots are deep. Our roots go way back, they're not just bounded to the streets and these grids and these traffic lights, they go down really deep to communities in Mexico, at least for me. I think that's what I can offer.

Martinez: I grew up in La Mirada, Calif., it's a suburb [in L.A. County]. My dad came to Santa Ana, Calif. with his grandma in the late '60s. My mom came to Orange County in the early '80s from Cartagena, Colombia. They established the family. I was the first one to come out and there's only two of us. We moved to La Mirada and lived in some apartments over there for a while, and then they bought a house. Parks and beaches were part of my family's recreational activities. I look at L.A. as a massive region as a county, not just a city.

And to be honest, I'm infatuated by its natural beauty, these hills, the mountains, the wildlife, the ocean. I think of things like, "Wow, I can see the sunset over the oceans horizon because I'm facing directly west" in Redondo Beach. And conversely, the sun sets over the mountains when I'm in Long Beach because I'm facing south. After so many years I can visualize the panorama from various points in relation to the map. Although I navigate L.A.s streets and highways, I'd rather be on a bike, traveling at the speed of my own will, heading in whatever direction without so much regard to traffic or signals. I guess I try to feel the region I live in, as opposed to think of it in the confines of the names and boundaries, that actually don't exist.

What key things do you think are necessary for L.A. to become a place where all of its residents are celebrated and able to thrive?

Martinez: I think it's necessary for people to open their minds, drop the judgement. I feel like traveling definitely helped me see and feel things differently.

"For me, I'd say that following your heart can work!... I'm still marching to the beat of my own drum, because that's what I know how to do, and that's what makes whatever I do unique." -Bardo Martinez

It's been a decade since the band's debut—what have you learned about yourself as artists and as humans since then?

Martinez: For me, I'd say that following your heart can work! I've pursued music for aesthetic reasons, never really thinking about the markers of success, not to say those aren't necessary.

And I'm still marching to the beat of my own drum, because that's what I know how to do, and that's what makes whatever I do unique.

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Sheila E. performs during the GRAMMYs Salute To Prince
Sheila E. performs during the GRAMMY Salute To Prince in 2020

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


Living Legends: Sheila E. On Prince, Playing Salsa And Marching To The Beat Of Her Own Drum

"I was a percussion player leading my band, playing timbales, which no one really understood," Sheila E. says of her debut record. Forty years later, the GRAMMY-nominated multi-hyphenate is still forging her own path on the energetic new record, 'Bailar.'

GRAMMYs/Apr 5, 2024 - 01:22 pm

GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter, producer and percussionist Sheila E. has certainly had a glamorous life — and has done a lot with it. 

The child of percussionist Pete Escovedo and goddaughter of legendary timbalero Tito Puente, Sheila Escovedo has been energizing stages for most of her life. First performing as a child, Sheila was one of few female percussionists in the 1970s and '80s, and rose to the upper echelons of the music industry — performing alongside Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock and Diana Ross. Whether in session or onstage, her dynamism and inventiveness continually made Sheila the star of the show. 

"I think outside the box," Sheila E. tells "You just come up with ideas and it doesn't have to be traditional. It just has to be from your heart, a feeling that makes sense, that compliments whatever song it may be." 

Sheila's energy and unique approach to playing drums, timbale, and percussion caught the attention of Prince, a unique artist in his own right. The two spent decades as creative partners – Sheila acting as the Purple One's drummer, producer, musical director and, for a time, romantic partner; Prince shepherded her 1984 solo debut, A Glamorous Life, into being — and worked together until his death. Among her lasting contributions to their musical legacy, Sheila performed on the Purple Rain sessions and toured the album, and her vocals appear on "Erotic City." The two duetted on Sheila's 1986 single "A Love Bizarre" and, fittingly, got engaged in the middle of a performance.

In addition to her list of impressive accomplishments (which include co-founding the educational nonprofit Elevate Oakland), Sheila E has released eight albums as a solo artist. Her ninth, Bailar, finds the one avenue Sheila had yet to pursue: salsa. 

Recorded in Miami with a cast of local musicians, the 10-track record features originals and covers in both Spanish and English, and its lead single — an energetic cover of Celia Cruz's "Bemba Colorá featuring Gloria Estefan & Mimy Succar — fittingly has Sheila playing percussion, timbale and singing. 

"This is the best record I've ever done. I feel that good about it," she says. Ahead of Bailar's April 5 release, Sheila E. spoke with about creating music in a new idiom, the importance of collaboration, and finding space in music. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You've been working in the funk, R&B and pop space for years. What brought you to salsa now?

I've wanted to do a salsa record for a long time. My bucket list is extensive, and then I met [GRAMMY-winning producer and timbale player] Tony Succar in 2015… he did a project and took Michael Jackson songs and flipped them into salsa. I said, "Man, if I ever do my salsa record, we have to do it together because you understand."

I'm bringing that Oakland vibe to salsa. My dad was a Latin jazz artist — that's the foundation of who I am —  however, he also played salsa music in the house. I grew up listening to Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz and Tito Rodriguez, and the Fania All-Stars.  Our whole family loves salsa dancing.

There was music that I had written for an R&B album that I didn't release, and I said we can take some of this and flip it into salsa. This is another side of me that I'm excited about sharing with the people. 

Bailar sounds like something you would hear in New York or Miami, but there's something slightly different about it. What are you bringing to this record that might be different from another salsa band?

Salsa is very demanding. It's specific and traditional; there are things that are supposed to be played in specific sections of a song — whether it's a conga rhythm, a timbal rhythm, a cowbell rhythm. The element of the Bay Area and the Latin jazz with a little bit of funk, that was me [adding something new]. 

I always wanted to do "Bemba Colorá." I did a rumba in front of it and took a conga solo, and when I got to the half-time of that song, I said, "I want to take a drum solo." I don't think anyone has taken a drum solo or have even played drums on this song…especially a woman. Just adding different elements like that, as well as the way that I mix: where I place the horns and where I place the percussion and where the bells are and where the drums are. 

Tony Succar and I produced this record together. I did a couple of arrangements [and] co-wrote seven of the 10 songs. The songs that I had already written were arranged, but then we wanted to flip them into salsa. 

Are there any other songs on this record that you're particularly proud of?

All of them. Every one is a different story. The only woman that I could think of to call [for "Bemba Colorá"] was Gloria Estefan; she's like my sister. Mimi Succar is a new and upcoming artist, so we had her to sing as well, and the three of us just had a blast. 

[Also] playing "Anacaona," which is a song I used to hear [by] Fania All-Stars and Cheo Feliciano. My dream was to have Rubén Blades sing on my record; he sang that song and I started crying. I was just overwhelmed. 

["El Rey del Timbal"] was one song that I had played with Tito [Puente] and my dad many times. When Tony sent me the demo, I listened to it and was like, "We got to go way faster than that. If Tito was playing it, he would've played it this way, and I know because I've played it with him."  So I started taking a solo, banging my legs while I was listening to it through the phone, and I just kept going faster, and then Tony's like, "Are you serious? This is 200-something BPMs." 

It was perfect for me taking the timbale solo, but when I had to then overdub and play all the parts on the bells and everything, it was so fast, I was like, What was I thinking? The horn section had it worse. A trumpet player yelled on the track  — "Ahh!" —  and I boosted him yelling [on the final mix], because that's real stuff.  It took everything for them. 

I'd love to hear a little bit about your relationship with Tito Puente and any important musical lessons he taught you, especially now that you're coming out with an album that's very much influenced by his work.

He was such an influence. He was amazing. He did so much for us as a family, musically, as well as being our friend and growing up listening to him. He and my dad met when they were 18, and having him around the house when I was growing up, I didn't even know he was.  

The biggest thing was we would go to New York, my dad and I, and we would sit in with Tito at the Palladium and the Corso. And back then, you'd have four bands playing in one night until 6 in the morning. And they would jump from one club to the other. It was the most stressful time because, as jazz artists, we didn't hardly sit in with salsa bands. I was like, "But papa, I don't know the clave, I don't understand what bell pattern or what conga pattern to play." He goes, "Don't worry about it. You don't listen to those guys. You just go play you."

So he kept encouraging [me]: it doesn't matter, you have the heart to go ahead. And my pops would say the same thing: We might not understand it technically, but we play it from our heart. [Tito] always encouraged me, and I got to play with Celia, Tito and [bassist] Cachao [Lopez] at the same time.

What a dream come true. Tito introduced me to all of these musicians as well, but really just telling everybody, "You be quiet and just let Sheila play."

Read more: Celebrating Tito Puente's Centennial: 10 Essential Songs By The Mambo King

Bailar is a bit more celebratory than your last album, 2017's Iconic: Message 4 America, which was heavily political. Obviously we continue to live in increasingly fraught times; why was it important for you to put more positive messages out into the world? One of your tracks is even called "Possibilities."

We are living in hard times, and it's challenging. Things are changing every single day. And everyone is going through something every single day.  One of the things that has been such a blessing to me is the gift of music. I don't take it for granted. To be able to share music and at least make people happy for the five minutes that you listen to this song or the entire record…is healing.

Many times in my shows, people end up crying. It's emotional, and music brings joy. It lifts you up. It brings you to a place of happiness and love, and we just want you to have a good time. But the joy that I get to be able to do this, it heals me too. And I just thought it was important.

Your work and relationship with Prince is so extensive and deep. What would you consider the peak of your creative partnership?

I don't think there ever was. We continued to grow and just kept experimenting on different sounds, and recording and jamming. We first jammed together in 1977 when he came to my house. We either recorded or played together [on] so many songs. There's still tons of stuff in the vault…I counted at least 200 songs I played on that I haven't even heard yet.

We were always jamming, coming up with something, or recording. A lot of times I would engineer for him as well; it's just he and I [in the room] most of the time. I taught myself some engineering when I was growing up; I saved all my money and started buying recording gear so I could learn how to write and produce myself when I was in my teens. 

So when I started to record with [Prince], I had already recorded songs on tape before. Being in the studio with him, we would see who could stay up the longest, who's going to fall asleep first. We would catch each other [falling asleep] almost at the same time. 

*You also worked with Prince on your debut album, 1984's The Glamorous Life. You'd been working so much as a musician up to that point already that it's interesting to think of it as your debut. How did you work on that project together?*

We had already been jamming and playing together before we did all that. And I had been out on tour with so many artists beforehand; when we first met, I was already touring with George Duke in the mid-'70s. [Prince was] like, "I've been watching you and I'm following your career, and maybe one day we could do something together." 

He started doing all these albums, and then he becomes the Prince that we all know. He changed every record, which was amazing musically. At the time [we recorded Glamorous Life], he was at Sunset Sound [recording studio and] he had all the rooms going at the same time. We just went in and started recording.

Prince was very involved in getting me the deal with Warner Brothers. He just one day said, "You want to do the record now?" And I was like, "Yeah, I think I'm ready. Let's do it." It was that simple. We went into the studio and we were pretty much done with my record, from top to bottom, in a week.

We just stayed in there, literally no sleep. We were so excited. We had so much fun.

Back then, I wasn't really playing drums a lot. I wanted to make sure that my percussion was in the forefront, and he knew that too. That's how Glamorous Life came about, to showcase me in a light that I wasn't really a singer. I was a percussion player leading my band, playing timbales, which no one really understood because, in pop culture, no one had done that. 

So it took even a minute for [Warner Brothers] to understand releasing the record. They wanted to release "Belle of St. Mark" first as the single and not "Glamorous Life"; I had to fight them on it because I said, "'Glamorous Life' is a song that is important to me, and it showcases me as a percussionist and a singer. If I do 'Belle of St. Mark,' it's only me singing. I'm not even playing percussion."

I would love to hear about other musical collaborators who are a big part of your story.

I've been able to play with so many people: George Duke and my dad, and [drummer] Billy Cobham, [bassist] Alfonso Johnson, and it went on. Then [jazz guitarist] Lee Ritenour and [jazz pianist] Patrice Rushen and all of these other artists; Herbie Hancock…. Then you go switch over to Marvin Gaye, and then you go to Brooks & Dunn. I just hopped all over the place with Con Funk Shun and sitting in with so many people and recording. When we do these events, you get to sit and play with Phil Collins and Elton John; I'll just play percussion, I'll be the backup. I don't need to be in the front. Part of what I love is I get to be on both sides.

I can be a team player and play with a group, which is so exciting. Or if you want to feature me, that's fine. That's kind of what had happened throughout my life; anyone that I performed with would just say, "Sheila, you just go out in the front." They would push me out there. Marvin Gaye is like, "Sheila, you take over. I'm going to go back and change." He made it a part of his show. And then same thing with Lionel Richie. Everyone would just feature me, it became that thing. Everyone has influenced me in some sort of way.

You're out there being featured and just putting so much into your performances. You have this incredible amount of energy. What powers you?

God's given me the gift and point-blank. I am forever grateful to be able to do what I get to do because of that gift. I don't take it for granted. 

You have musical directed the Obama's Festival Latina, the Recording Academy's Tribute to Prince, and of course, you were his musical director for many years. Does that work require a special set of musical muscles?

When it comes to music and just being an artist, whatever you put into it is what you get out. I would always do the homework that was needed to play with an artist — learn all the music — so when I walked into a situation, I would walk in with confidence. I wasn't a great reader at all; it was really all by ear. That preparation is everything. 

Putting together my first ever band during that time in the early '80s, I knew what I wanted. [Today] I'm able to put together projects and put the right people together. For some people, it's just a gig and for me, it's more than that. It's a lifestyle and it's family and it's trust and it's respect. 

How did you choose the music for "Let's Go Crazy: The GRAMMY Tribute To Prince"?

Some of the songs they already had, some of the other songs I suggested. Almost everything that they were going to play, I knew and I had a lot of the original music. I had a lot of the samples; I had Prince's vocals. There were things that I had that could help in some of the arrangements, and a lot of the arrangements I used from my show. 

You try to adjust to make sure that [the artists] shine and that they feel comfortable, because everyone was really nervous. I had many conversations with people making sure, "Is this a good key for you?" Making sure that "You don't have to sing it like Prince. This is your representation of who you are and you happen to be doing a Prince song and no one's going to judge you for it." 

Speaking of collaborative efforts, The Greatest Night in Pop music doc came out recently. What do you remember from recording "We Are the World"? 

I kind of didn't want to do it because, initially, we were on the Purple Rain tour [and] we were exhausted. At some point I thought,  Do I even belong in that caliber of people? 

[At the "We Are The World" session,] everyone was hanging out, everybody was really cool. No one had a huge entourage. I was excited to meet people I hadn't met before. One of the people I was excited about meeting was Cyndi Lauper. I loved her. I wanted to meet Bruce Springsteen, the boss. 

In that moment of being in that room with everyone, and it was just amazing to [think], Wow, we're going to do something incredible to be able to raise money for people who are starving.  Then you just take a breath and you do what you do, and then things happen.

Do you think that you have changed or contributed to the sound of percussion in R&B and pop music?

My style is my style. Different artists from the Bay — Sly and the Family Stone, Carlos Santana, my dad's band [Azteca], Grateful Dead, Tower Of Power, of course, Pointer Sisters — listening to all those bands and being able to watch their rehearsals when I was a teenager influenced me. 

The key was being adaptable to what needed to be for that specific song. You have to make up your own beats, because being a percussion player is like [working on] a beautiful painting that's already painted and they're asking you to put one color in there or you see a space — what would you put in that space? 

It's not about playing all over the place and playing something that doesn't belong. You have to figure out those spaces and, to me, the most important part of music is space. That space is what allows a song to breathe.

I would use different things even in the studios; I didn't use all of the right mics all the time. I would bite on an apple and sample it and put that sound on top of the snare. I just experimented. I started on pots and pans, and I used keys, and I used a spray bottle can that blows out air to clean your computer as a high hat. Everything can be musical. 

One of the biggest things is Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough." Quincy [Jones] had called me and said, "Michael wants this kind of sound, I don't know what it is, bring all your toys." I brought everything. I ended up getting two bottles and I poured water in it, and I used the holder to play the triangle on the sides of the bottle. So "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough" has those bottles.  

You just come up with ideas and it doesn't have to be traditional. It just has to be from your heart, a feeling that makes sense, that compliments whatever song it may be.

Are there any other female percussionists out there right now that you see carrying the torch that you lit?

Oh my God. There are so many drummers right now. I go on social media frequently throughout the week, and I try to find at least someone new and DM them and say, "You're amazing. God bless you. Thank you for your gift. Keep doing what you're doing," and people freak out. 

That's part of my job, to continue to encourage the young people to keep playing. 

You've mentioned in previous interviews that you've dealt with a lot of harassment throughout your career as a woman playing an instrument that women don't traditionally play. I'd like to know how you continued to move forward and own your vision in an industry, and in an era, where women are often belittled or posited as like sex objects.

When I first started, I didn't know it was a big deal that I was one of few — or one of one — that was doing what I was doing. In the Bay Area, you see a lot of women playing percussion. In Berkeley, we all go and hang out at the park and everyone plays and it's like 20 or 30 of us and whoever brings their instrument, they just jam with us.

Coming to L.A. and recording with other artists, when I walked into a room, the drummer would say, "Can you get me a cup of coffee?" And I'm like, "I'll get it for you but I'm not the receptionist or anything. I'm the percussion player." They would freak out. 

When that first started happening and things were being said that were really rude and bad, I would go back to my parents. They would just say, "You just keep doing what you're doing. They're jealous or they're mad because you're there, or they've never seen anyone like you. You have a gift and you just go ahead. You learn the music, know what you have to do, so when you walk in with confidence, it's not an issue." A lot of the time, those musicians were not prepared, and I was, and they hated me even more because I knew everything. 

I got so much joy out of performing. And even with all the nos and the nastiness and the stuff that was being said [like], "Hey, if you sleep with me," all of these other things. It just made me stronger. You keep pushing through; you just keep playing. 

When you find your passion and that's your purpose, no one can stop you.  I stand on that word.

Living Legends: Cuban Pianist & Composer Chucho Valdés On Developing "The Creation," Growing Up On The Island & Loving Dizzy Gillespie

Chicano Batman
Chicano Batman

Photo: Josue Rivas


On 'Notebook Fantasy,' Chicano Batman Open Up Their Psychedelic Soul: "We Always Know We're Going To Have That 'It' Factor"

When Los Angeles favorites Chicano Batman got together with star producer John Congleton, he coaxed out their deepest and most dynamic aural feast yet. Read an interview with their guitarist, Carlos Arévalo.

GRAMMYs/Mar 26, 2024 - 02:19 pm

Sometimes, when bands come to work with big producers, industry pressures kick in, and they start to sound less like themselves. Hearteningly, when Chicano Batman hooked up with John Congleton — who's worked with everyone from St. Vincent to Brian Wilson to Alvvays — the opposite happened.

"At the core of it, we still do what we've always done from the beginning," their guitarist, Carlos Arévalo, tells "Which is: we get in a room, we get in a circle, look at each other and start recording the songs together, which is like jazz."

Indeed, Arévalo comes from a rich jazz background — and that helps explain the sumptuous sound of their new album, Notebook Fantasy, due out March 29. When you hear highlights like "Fly," "Hojas Secas" and "Fairytale Love," you'll grasp exactly what he means.

"It's amazing what happens when you put really good musicians in a room. You give them some direction and you say, 'Go.' Magic happens," he says, characterizing Chicano Batman as "old school" in how they approach their craft.

"We always know we're going to have that 'it' factor, and the magic is going to be in the room if we're in a room playing together," Arévalo continues. "That's what we've always done, and we continue to do on this record."

Read on for a full interview with Arévalo about how Notebook Fantasy came to be.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The textures on Notebook Fantasy really spoke to me. Can you take me through Chicano Batman's textural thinking on this record?

When we met with [John Congleton] him to talk about the album, he was like, "I've listened to your past records, I love them. I feel like the sounds you're going for on those records are great, the songs are great, but I want the songs to come through more clearly on this record. 

"Let's not use a lot of distortion and compression to color your sound. Let's go for something more open-sounding, more dynamic." Which is very in line with record making pre-2000 — like, '90s, '80s, '70s.

And so that meant going to a proper studio — Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood — and using those classic recording desks, those mixing consoles, the API, the Neves — those things that are just so high quality that when you record into them, they're picking up every bit of musical clarity from your amplifier, your voice, the bass.

When you hear it on playback, it's just so beautifully colored without having to add all these extra things to make it sound good. Which was our process in the past because we didn't have access to things like that. We were using DIY equipment, and sometimes that means you have to use a bunch of things to make it sound the way you want it to sound.

But when you work with equipment like what they have at Sunset Sound, it's like, less is more. You get what you pay for: you have a great sounding room, a great sounding mixing desk, all you're going to have to do is play well and it's going to pick up that.

And so yes, the record has these beautiful textures that are just open, transparent, and big-sounding. A lot of it comes down to obviously the players, but using those classic pieces of gear that were used on the Doors' records, Prince records, Led Zeppelin records, Rolling Stones records... literally the same piece of equipment.

Did any albums from the canon come to mind as you crafted Notebook Fantasy?

Definitely. Steely Dan has always been a big, quirky inspiration for me. I unapologetically, actually like Steely Dan, and I appreciate their records, because they bridged that gap that I sought after for many years.

[That aesthetic] had been there for decades before I knew about it, but I was always like, "Man, where's the rock band using this jazz virtuosity or these complex harmonic chord progressions, mixing it with rock's danger?"

And I found out about Steely Dan through a good friend of mine when I was 18. He put me onto them and I was like, "This is kind of smooth, but it's kind of subversive." And then eventually after multiple listens, I was like, this is amazing. These guys are incredible.

And so anyways, that was definitely a point of reference in terms of sonics, just the clarity of those records. Those are the most famous recordings in terms of production. You put them on your turntable, you turn the volume up, and it feels like you're in the room with the musicians. So, that was definitely something to try to attain as best as we could.

Give me a song on the album that reflects that Dan dyad.

Probably "Fly," which is the lead single. That one has Prophet synthesizers and Junos. I mean, they didn't use those kinds of things, but it has a Rhodes as well.

Actually, you know what? Maybe not "Fly." It would probably be "Live Today."The song was one of the last songs to make the record. We were running out of time and we were trying to figure out what song to record last.

I showed that song to the group, and Congleton loved it immediately, because he understood that it was something that could compliment the rest of the material. It was a compositional texture we hadn't used yet on the record. And so I had the parts already written out, but I wanted to see what would happen if I was just like, "Here you go. Let's start tracking."

We worked on that song with this keyboardist named Quincy McCreary, who plays with Jack White and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. He was in town for a gig at the Forum with Jack White, but he had the morning off.He did his thing on the Fender Roads. And then we had this amazing drummer, Tamir Barzilay, who plays with Jason Mraz, and he's played with Macy Gray. Incredible instincts and just musicality on the drums.

It was honestly like a Steely Dan moment. We were directing the song, we're like the inferior musicians, but the songwriters, but we have these amazing musicians there to blossom the tunes.

That's what happened on a song like "Live Today." It was just fast because we worked fast because it's tracking live, and it was immediately gratifying. And I remember Congleton playing back the song, he was like, "This is great. I love this song."

And that was really cool to hear because Congleton kind of has a poker face and he's no bullshit, and he's very direct and objective, which is what you want in a producer. And I remember he did show emotion right there, and he was like, "This is awesome." And so that was fun.

How does Notebook Fantasy reflect your evolution as a guitarist and keyboardist?

Every time I record a new album with Chicano Batman, I try to approach it differently, and build upon what I had recorded in the past. But in doing so, I try to do something different — take myself out of my comfort zone.

In the past, I would write my guitar solos because I want them to be memorable, melodic, singable. And on this record, I didn't do that. I used the instincts of John [Congleton] and our bassist, Eduardo, to help guide me into getting the best takes in certain songs.

So a song like "Live Today," the guitar solo, that was improvised. That was the first take. And I remember I recorded it and I thought, "I don't know, that was probably terrible." And John and Eduardo were like, "That was amazing. Let's move on." And then when you have trust like that with people, it's easy. Cause then you don't have to doubt yourself, you just listen to them and move forward.

Same thing with the end of the song, we have a song called "Parallels." It's like an improvisatory guitar outro. That was done on the third take. I did one pass improvise, and it was more typical of what would be my comfort zone as a musician.

And then, I got some feedback from John and Eduardo, like: "No, try to play here on these spaces." And I did. And again, like I said, the proof was when Congleton jumped up and was just like, "Yes!" He just evoked a sound of approval. I must be doing something right right now, even though I don't understand it.

Because you can't be objective. You're just purely trying to be emotional as a musician and do something that hopefully is felt by the listener. And he was there to be like, "That was the take. Don't overthink it. Let's move on." And listening back, he was right. I really am very proud of those guitar parts.

Give me some MVP moments from your bandmates on Notebook Fantasy.

Eduardo's bass playing on "Fly" is just incredible. It's so funky. It's so pocket, and it's so melodic. It's everything. I just can't stop listening to that take.

And from Bardo... Man, Bardo did so amazing on all the tracks. I mean, on the title track, "Notebook Fantasy," he's reaching and hitting notes that I didn't know he had in him, and he crushed it absolutely on the entire record.

Those guys just continually pleasantly surprise me. Every time we get into the studio, it's just like, Yes, this is why I work with these people. Because they're so talented and they're able to reach inside of themselves and pull something out that's new.

And what's your MVP moment? Pressure's on now!

Probably the song "Hojas Secas."

That's one of the songs Eduardo wrote, and he had a very clear vision for what he wanted the guitars to do on that, the lead guitars. And he wanted a column response, but he didn't want bluesy Page licks, or Hendrix licks. He wanted something that was more brash and harsh, but still had an element of beauty.

And his guidance and Congleton's guidance on that just really helped me get out parts that I didn't know I had in me at all. I didn't know I could play like that. I probably knew I could play like that, but I didn't know I would ever get to use those techniques within this band.

It was just a moment where I was like, Man, we could do anything in this band. As long as we're being true to ourselves as musicians and trying to grow, there is no limit to this.

Chicano Batman Talk Creating Visibility For Invisible People, Representation Of Latinos In Media & Repping Los Angeles

Norah Jones
Norah Jones

Photo: Joelle Grace Taylor


5 Inspirations Behind Norah Jones' New Album 'Visions': Nightly Dreams, Collabs, Harmony Stacks & More

On her iridescent new album 'Visions,' out March 8, Jones embraces a newer collaborator in Leon Michels, and brings the stuff of phantasmagoria into immediate, organic relief.

GRAMMYs/Mar 8, 2024 - 03:06 pm

Not all Norah Jones fans know this, but her debut 2002 album Come Away With Me was recorded in its entirety a whopping three times. Her latest, Visions, is no less detailed or exacting. But in true Blue Note fashion — it's out March 8, via said label — it sprang from an improvisatory, immediate space.

"I didn't really have a lot of preconceived ideas," Jones tells over Zoom, as a typically oppressive winter in New York blurs into spring. ("I like winter," she says. "Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one.") Despite this dearth of advance material, "We just wrote and played," Jones continues. "And, honestly, he's one of the most fun people I get to play music with."

"He" is none other than producer, multi-instrumentalist and two-time GRAMMY nominee Leon Michels; Jones, a nine-time GRAMMY winner and 19-time nominee herself, previously worked with him on her first-ever holiday album, 2021's I Dream of Christmas.

Highlights like "Staring at the Wall," "Running" and "I'm Awake" show Jones is clearly the same artist who made classics like Come Away With Me and 2004's Feels Like Home — but in the ensuing decades, her work has assumed layers of adventurousness and dynamism.

"I love playing music with people and collaborating and trying new things, and I feel very at ease with myself and as myself in all those situations," Jones says. "Which is why it works, I think. I'm not trying to be somebody else when I do this. I'm comfortable, but I love to just try new clothes on musically."

Read on for a breakdown of people, concepts and things that inspired the making of Visions.

Her Podcast "Norah Jones Is Playing Along"

Over 32 episodes and counting, Jones has sat down with everyone from Jeff Tweedy to Seth MacFarlane to Laufey for extemporaneous collaborations and conversations. Jones notes that they're gearing up to release more episodes.

While she doesn't expressly note the podcast as a direct influence, its one-on-one format harmonizes with the dynamic between herself and Michel on Visions.

"I think anything you do influences you in some ways, even if you don't realize how," Jones says. "I've always been a pretty open musician, but I just feel like I get more and more open."

Her Creative Synergy With Leon Michels

When Jones had a shred of an idea — a few lyrics, a sketch of a melody — she would sit at a piano or guitar, Michels would get behind the kit, and they'd jam it out, garage band-style.

From there, the collaborators would add "a ton of harmonies" — more on that later — as well as bass, guitar, horns, organ, or whatever else would elevate the songs.

"The live energy you feel on those recordings is from me and him playing drums and piano or guitar," Jones says, "and just having fun."

Subconscious, Subterranean Zones

As Jones noted in the press materials, Visions came from a space beyond wakefulness.

"The reason I called the album Visions is because a lot of the ideas came in the middle of the night or in that moment right before sleep," she said. She then evoked the lead single: "'Running' was one of them where you're half asleep and kind of jolted awake."

"I think it just all flowed really fast," Jones says in retrospect. "There were some songs that I had to tweak the lyrics more because they were slower to come, but most of them were pretty fast."

Stacking Harmonies — Christmas Style

Two years and change ago, I Dream of Christmas displayed a newer facet of Jones' sound: dense, layered harmonies. It worked so well on those yuletide tunes that Jones and Michels expanded on that concept for Visions.

"I'm always hearing harmonies, and I'm pretty quick at adding them," Jones recalls, and he's always, "Add a harmony, add a harmony, add a harmony." It's really part of the sound of the record."

Jones says this comes straight from her record collection. "It does come pretty naturally. It comes from years of loving music," she says. "I mean, I used to imitate Aretha's background singers. I think it was Cissy Houston. I love that kind of harmony." (Plus, she sang in jazz groups and high school and college, with 10 vocalists as a united throng.)

For Jones' upcoming tour dates on the East Coast, which span May and June, Michels won't be present. But those shimmering, layered vocals will.

Bringing Two More Singers To The Party

Along with four-time GRAMMY-winning drummer extraordinaire Brian Blade and the great, indie-oriented bassist Josh Lattanzi, Jones will perform alongside singers Sasha Dobson and Sami Stevens, who will also chip in on guitar and keys.

"We had our first rehearsal yesterday, and it sounds incredible," Jones says, aglow. She then considers the nuances of bringing studio creations to life onstage.

"Sometimes, you want to hit all the parts and sometimes you can and sometimes you can't," she says. "And you have to strip a song back and it sounds just as great, because it's a good song, and that's always a good feeling."

Onstage, though, Jones says they'll have all the resources to pull it off. Call it Visions come to life, and made material.

Norah Jones On Her Two-Decade Evolution, Channeling Chris Cornell & Her First-Ever Live Album, 'Til We Meet Again

boygenius, Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff at 2024 GRAMMYs
(L-R) boygenius, Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


10 Must-See Moments From The 2024 GRAMMYs: Taylor Swift Makes History, Billy Joel & Tracy Chapman Return, Boygenius Manifest Childhood Dreams

The 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards wrote another monumental chapter in music history with returns from legends like Celine Dion and wins by a promising new generation of artists like Victoria Monét.

GRAMMYs/Feb 5, 2024 - 08:35 pm

Just like that, another GRAMMYs has come and gone — but the 2024 telecast brought many moments that will be immortalized in pop culture history.

It was the evening of legends, as Billy Joel and Tracy Chapman returned to the stage for the first time in decades and Joni Mitchell made her debut with a performance of her 1966 classic, "Both Sides, Now." Stevie Wonder and Celine Dion honored greats, both those we've lost and those who are dominating today. And Meryl Streep had two memorable moments at the show, making a fashionably late entrance and getting a hilarious GRAMMY lesson from Mark Ronson.

But it was the younger generation of artists who ultimately dominated the show. Boygenius — the supergroup of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker — won numerous awards in the Rock, Metal & Alternative Music Field. Billie Eilish and SZA scooped up a couple more golden gramophones, respectively, and Best New Artist winner Victoria Monét celebrated three wins in total, also winning Best R&B Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

Taylor Swift built on the momentum of her colossal year with more GRAMMY records and an unexpected announcement of her next studio album.

Check out the full list of winners here, and take a look at our top 10 highlights from another show-stopping installment of the GRAMMYs below.

Boygenius Run To Accept Their First GRAMMY Award

Boygenius won the first trophy of their careers during the Premiere Ceremony, and they were so ecstatic they sprinted through the crowds to get to the stage.

"Oh my God, I want to throw up," Lucy Dacus said as the group accepted their Best Rock Performance trophy for "Not Strong Enough."

Even though the trio was over the moon, they weren't entirely shocked by their win: "We were delusional enough as kids to think this would happen to us one day," she continued. Phoebe Bridgers would sing at a local Guitar Center "in hopes of getting discovered," while Julien Baker dreamed of performing in stadiums as she played in multiple bands, and Dacus has been perfecting her acceptance speech for years.

Their hard work was manifested three times over, as the trio also won Best Rock Song for "Not Strong Enough" and Best Alternative Music Album for the record.

Killer Mike Makes A Clean Sweep

Killer Mike had the largest GRAMMY night of his career, winning all three of the Rap Categories for which he was nominated: Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for "SCIENTISTS & ENGINEERS," and Best Rap Album for MICHAEL.

"I'm from the Southeast, like DJ Paul, and I'm a Black man in America. As a kid, I had a dream to become a part of music, and that 9-year-old is very excited right now," he cheered. "I want to thank everyone who dares to believe art can change the world."

Minutes after his sweep, the LAPD detained the Run the Jewels rapper. However, he was released and still able to celebrate his achievements, Killer Mike's lawyer told Variety.

Miley Cyrus Finally Receives Her "Flowers"

Miley Cyrus entered the GRAMMYs with six nominations for her eighth studio album, Endless Summer Vacation. After she won Best Pop Solo Performance for "Flowers," she delivered a jubilant performance in celebration. "Started to cry, but then remembered, I just won my first GRAMMY!" she exclaimed at the song's bridge, throwing her hands in the air and joyfully jumping around the stage.

Cyrus' excitement brought a tangible energy to the performance, making for one of the night's most dynamic — and apparently one of Oprah Winfrey's favorites, as the camera caught the mogul dancing and singing along.

"Flowers" earned Cyrus a second GRAMMY later in the night, when the No. 1 hit was awarded Record Of The Year. 

Tracy Chapman Makes A Rare Appearance

Luke Combs breathed a second life into Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" when he released a cover of the track in April 2023. He quickly climbed to the top of the Billboard charts and received a nomination for Best Country Solo Performance at this year's show. Of course, it called for a special celebration — one that was meaningful for both Combs and GRAMMYs viewers.

Chapman joined the country star on stage for her first televised performance since 2015, trading off verses with Combs as he adoringly mouthed the words. The duet also marked Chapman's first appearance on the GRAMMY stage in 20 years, as she last performed "Give Me One Reason" at the 2004 GRAMMYs. (It also marked her second time singing "Fast Car" on the GRAMMYs stage; she performed it in 1989, the same year the song won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and Chapman took home three awards total, including Best New Artist.)

Naturally, Chapman's return earned a standing ovation from the crowd. As Combs fittingly put it in an Instagram post thanking the Recording Academy for the opportunity, it was a "truly remarkable moment."

Read More: 2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Winners & Nominees List

Joni Mitchell Takes The GRAMMY Stage For The First Time At 80

In one of the most emotional parts of the night, Joni Mitchell performed on the GRAMMYs stage for the first time in her nearly 60-year career.

Accompanied by Brandi Carlile — who referred to Mitchell as "the matriarch of imagination" before the performance — Lucius, SistaStrings, Allison Russell, Blake Mills, and Jacob Collier, Mitchell sang a touching rendition of "Both Sides Now."

"Joni is one of the most influential and emotionally generous creators in human history," Carlile  added in her introduction. "Joni just turned 80, my friends, but we all know she's timeless!"

Mitchell also won her 10th golden gramophone at the 2024 GRAMMYs, as her live album Joni Mitchell at Newport was awarded Best Folk Album at the Premiere Ceremony.

Stevie Wonder Salutes The Late Tony Bennett, Duetted By His Hologram

Another heartfelt moment came during this year's In Memoriam segment, when Stevie Wonder memorialized his friend, Tony Bennett, who passed away from Alzheimer's disease in 2023.

"Tony, I'm going to miss you forever. I love you always, and God bless that He allowed us to have you in this time and space in our lives," Wonder proclaimed. Thanks to a hologram of Bennett, the two singers could duet "For Once in My Life" one last time.

This year's tribute also saw Annie Lennox covering Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U," Jon Batiste's medley of Bill Withers' hits, and Fantasia's reimagining of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary."

Meryl Streep Gets Educated On Album Vs. Record And Single

Meryl Streep joined Mark Ronson — who happens to be her son-in-law — to announce the Record Of The Year winner, which sparked a funny interaction between the two when Streep thought she was announcing Album Of The Year.

"A record is an album!" Streep confidently declared, only for Ronson to give a quick 101 on the difference between Record, Song, and Album Of The Year.

"It's a really important award, and it's an award that recognizes everything that goes into making a great record — the producers, the recording engineer, and the artist, and all their contributions," Ronson explained of Record Of The Year.

"It's the Everything Award! It's the best," Streep smiled.

Celine Dion Surprises The World With A Special Cameo

Before the GRAMMYs commenced, producer Ben Winston told viewers they would be in for a treat because of a surprise presenter for the final award of the night, Album Of The Year. "They are an absolute global icon. I think jaws will drop to the floor. People will be on their feet," he shared.

It was none other than Celine Dion, who has largely been out of the limelight after her stiff person syndrome diagnosis.

"When I say that I'm happy to be here, I really mean it with my heart," Dion said. "It gives me great joy to present a GRAMMY award that two legends, Diana Ross and Sting, presented to me 27 years ago."

Dion is referring to her Album Of The Year win at the 39th GRAMMY Awards in 1997, when her smash LP Falling Into You won the honor. 

Taylor Swift Breaks The Record For Most AOTY Wins

It was a historic night for Taylor Swift in more ways than one.

She began the evening by winning her 13th GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Album for Midnights. To commemorate the milestone (13 is her lucky number), Swift announced her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, arriving on April 19.

She ended the evening with a coveted fourth Album Of The Year win, which made Swift the artist with the most AOTY nods in GRAMMY history.

"I would love to tell you this is the best moment of my life, but I feel this happy when I finish a song or crack the code to a bridge that I love or when I'm shot listing a music video or when I'm rehearsing with my dancers or my band or getting ready to go to Tokyo to play a show," she said. "The award is the work. All I want to do is keep being able to do this."

Billy Joel Serves Double GRAMMY Duty

After Swift's momentous win, Billy Joel ended the ceremony with a feel-good performance of his 1980 single, "You May Be Right." Along with being a rousing show closer, it was also his second performance of the night; Joel performed his newest offering, "Turn the Lights Back On," before Album Of The Year was announced.

Joel's performances included three firsts: It was the debut live rendition of "Turn the Lights Back On," his first release since 2007, and the performances marked his first time playing on the GRAMMYs stage in more than two decades. It was a fitting finale for a history-making show, one that beautifully celebrated icons of the past, present and future.

A Timeline Of Taylor Swift's GRAMMYs History, From Skipping Senior Prom To Setting A Record With 'Midnights'