¡Viva H-town!

Latinos come to the fore in this year's music awards

In the annals of Houston Press Music Awards, 2004 will go down as the year of the Latino. First off, there were a half-dozen or so new categories for Latin music, all of which were, of course, won by Latinos. Also, this year's big overall winner was Chingo Bling. The pride of North Tamaulipas won a total of four of the fist-shaped trophies, including Local Musician of the Year, Best Latin Rap, Best New Act and Best Local Label.

As is already plain, it wasn't just Latin categories where Latinos prevailed. Norma Zenteno took home Best Female Vocalist honors, Vatos Locos prevailed in punk, and Nick Gaitan of Los Skarnales broke the hold of the Fondue Monks' Rozz Zamorano (a Latino himself, now that I think about it) on the Best Bassist category.

And sadly, there came an untimely reminder that Latinos had been a part of the Houston music scene for many, many years. Word passed around that Norma Zenteno's father, Roberto, had passed away that afternoon, though that was not confirmed until hours later when his daughter took the stage. (My grandmother once reminisced to me about going to see Roberto in the early 1950s, making him perhaps the only musician we have ever both seen live.) In her acceptance speech, Norma said that she considered not coming to the ceremony, but her mother told her that many years ago her grandfather had ordered her father to a gig from his deathbed, and that Roberto would no doubt tell her the same thing, that the show must go on.

Roberto would have been proud to see this night, and not only because his daughter won her umpteenth award. He also would have seen how Hispanics have come to define music in Houston.

For no musician represents H-town, the city where Aztlan meets the Dirty South, better than Chingo Bling, the ghetto vaquero, the tamale kingpin. Who else dares to combine the hip-hop of the Boxx with the sounds of Los Tigres del Norte? Who else would dare fuse the fashion from the latest narcocorrido flick on Raza TV with the crunkest clothes or ice grill Lil' Jon could sport? Even his fighting cock is crunk -- have you seen Cleto's ice beak?

Unfortunately, neither Chingo nor Cleto was able to make the ceremony -- they were out in L.A. chunkin' la deuce and poppin' trunk on the pinche bootleggers that steal his chit. But he was considerate enough to send along an acceptance speech on what he would call a "DBD." And for some reason the audio didn't work on that film. (Did the pinche bootleggers steal the sound?)

But big winners are just a small part of what the awards ceremony is about. Much earlier on in the evening, Rodney Elliott of JW Americana -- a fine band, albeit one on the ballot for the first time -- spoke for many of the also-rans when he told me sincerely how much it meant to him to just be in the ceremony. "This is really weird for us," he said. "I mean, I've got a lazy eye and all that. Nobody likes us."

And in a way, he was right. Almost without exception, it was the old, non-lazy-eye guard that prevailed. Los Skarnales, Zenteno, Grady Gaines, the Zydeco Dots, D.R.U.M., DJ Sun, Mike Snow, Carolyn Wonderland, Ezra Charles and Brian Davis of Middlefinger have all been winning awards since Bill Clinton's first term. Tony Vega, John Evans and Faceplant have been doing so since his second. Other winners came from last year's crop of first-timers, including Drop Trio, Caliente and Molly & the Ringwalds.

But then there were the upstarts and surprises, not the least of which was the narrow triumph of Vatos Locos over 30footFALL, the blowout win of Lisa Novak and Melinda Mones over a tough crowd of Folk/Acoustic competitors, Lise Liddell's conquest of some pretty stiff competition in the Best Songwriter field, the Handsomes' handy victory over several much more battle-tested bands in Best Rock/Pop, and Kiss Kiss Kill Kill's easy win in Best Indie Rock. And even those that didn't win got to revel in the camaraderie of the evening, one of the only nights of the year when Houston's music community doesn't scratch, fight, claw and drag each other down like crabs in a bucket.

Anyway, thanks to all the sponsors, presenters (sports reporter Jorge Vargas of the WB, Quinn Bishop of Cactus Music and Video, Steve Sucher of the Musicians Benevolent Society of Houston, Jerry Brown of Budweiser and host Michael "Hi-Tech Texan" Garfield. Thanks also to the bands that performed (John Evans Band, Silverleaf, Faceplant, Arthur Yoria and the Handsomes). And thanks to all the bands on the ballot, the fans who love them, and congrats to the winners, a list of which follows below. -- John Nova Lomax

Best New Act, Best Latin Rap, Local Musician of the Year, Best Local Label

Chingo Bling

Rapper-entrepreneur- tamale kingpin Chingo Bling is as much a social commentator as he is a musician. Swipes at la migra, big-business radio and snooty stars like J.Lo are standard with the "Money and Masa '04" tour headliner. But even the glare off Chingo's bling (which includes belt buckles as big as his head) doesn't outshine the rapper's musical talent. The first-time nominee also earned nods as both Best New Act and Local Musician of the Year, an almost impossible combination given the stellar competition in the two categories.

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