Music with diverse cultural influence cut from Grammy nominations

By Gianne Carlo Nalangan

The Guardsman

John Santos leads his sextet on Friday night of the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival. COLE THOMPSON

 

Global musicians, artists and producers have united in opposition to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announcement of the elimination of Latin Jazz as a Grammy Award category. 30 other genre categories have also been deleted in an effort to streamline the 2012 Grammy Awards.Grammy Awards are given yearly for excellence in music and spoken word, and an award nomination can have a significant impact on artist and album exposure and sales. 

Along with Latin Jazz, some of the categories that have been eliminated include Hawaiian music, Native American music, Cajun and Zydeco music. They have now been combined under a single category, Best Regional Roots Music Album.

City College anthropology instructor Matthew Kennedy affirmed there is an importance of music in cultures all over the world.

“Musical traditions are central to people’s larger identity,” said Kennedy, giving as an example the Bollywood musical influence in India and the use of music to spread culture and history among the people of Lau Lagoon in the Solomon Islands.

“To categorize every music into one category is like implicitly stating that you’re not important enough to be acknowledged anymore,” said Kennedy. “It would be equivalent to nullifying traditions practiced all over the world.”

Kennedy added that, “To eliminate these different genres of music after celebrating and awarding their successes for years, would be very problematic.”

When the Academy, also called NARAS,  announced the category changes in May 2011, John Santos, a five-time Grammy nominee, quickly advocated for the immediate restoration of the different genre awards.

“[The Grammys] claim to be a peer award [show] to recognize musical diversity and here they are doing the opposite,” said Santos.

Santos said that NARAS eliminated categories due to low submission rates; however, NARAS had failed to notify the musicians of the new rule that requires each category to submit a minimum amount of nominees in order to receive recognition.

“If [NARAS] is truly concerned about the low number of submissions, they should have publicized it. They changed the rules without informing the people,” said Santos.

Although NARAS has admitted and apologized for their actions, Santos states that they still refuse to take any action to overturn their decision.

NARAS did not return any of several phone calls and a voice message to comment or respond to this article.

According to Santos, as accusations of racism and cultural insensitivity arise, fellow musicians and artists question NARAS’ motives.

“[The] racist question comes into play because 70 percent [of the eliminated genres] are ethnic categories,” said Santos.

He goes on to say that the most commercial and popular fields of music are the only genres of music getting recognition.  Grammy nominations for music popular on the radio or television are heavily advertised in the mainstream media in print, television, radio and Internet.

Bobby Matos, an Afro Latin Jazz musician and fellow advocate against the NARAS decision, has stated that Latin Jazz deserves a category.

“A Grammy is the visible face of excellence in American music,” said Matos.

“Winning a Grammy, or even to be nominated, would increase the job opportunities for musicians,” said Matos.

According the their website, NARAS is a non-profit organization whose members range from musicians and producers to recording engineers and other recording professionals. It’s mission statement is to “positively impact the lives of musicians, industry members, and our society at large.”

The music community is appealing to the public for support in reinstating the award categories through letters and petitions at the website grammywatch.org. The site has updates on the current status of petition drives and pending legal actions.

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