The woman of the hour Thursday night was unquestionably 2008 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year Gloria Estefan, whose “Mi Tierra” was big, brassy, jazzy, horn-heavy and as Cuban as a fine Cohiba cigar. So was “Oye Mi Canto,” a sprightly cumbia marked by elastic piano and both horns and percussion going crazy.
“No Lloren” slowed things down just a little, all the better to accommodate Carlos Santana’s fluid electric licks and some fancy high-neck flamenco fretwork from Jose Feliciano. (One percussionist in the back was still pounding the hell out of his congas, though.)
And what would a Grammy show, Latin or English, be without a jaw-dropping surprise? For Aftermath, it was Banda el Recodo, no less than a Latin oom-pah band with tubas, trombones, a little swing a la Glenn Miller and some slick Motown-style choreography. Backed by accordionist Jimmy Zambrano and the Mariachi Vargas ensemble, Jorge Celedon and a platoon of folklorico dancers turned traditional ballad “Me Vio Llorar”/”Esta Vida” into a full-on waltz-time fiesta.
Cafe Tacuba after winning Best Rock Song for "Esta Vez" Photo by Olivia Flores Alvarez
Lying on top of a grand piano, Mexican rock doyenne Alejandra Guzman’s deep, husky voice on “Hasta el Final” put her into the Tina Turner range, with a little Eartha Kitt thrown in, while her skimpy dress on the subsequent “Soy Solo Un Secreto,” a bluesy, hard-rock ballad, drew a raised eyebrow from Diane the security minder: “I hope they taped that dress to her bosom.” (That’s right, she said “bosom.”) Guzman managed to finish the song without any sort of Janet Jackson mishap, though.
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Aftermath freely admits he still has trouble sometimes distinguishing between the rainbow of Latin rhythms – mambo, meringue, and so forth – but Victor Manuelle’s “Mi Salsa” left little doubt which style he was singing, in yet another world-class vocal performance. A Blue Man Group-like percussion troupe (albeit in street clothes) and lissome silver-clad dancers made the number even more over-the-top than Manuelle’s rafter-reaching vocals; many in the first level couldn’t refrain from dancing, and who could blame them?
Next up was finally someone Aftermath was not only familiar with, but has seen live several times, and Café Tacuba didn’t disappoint. The Mexico City alt-rockers justified the umpteen “Mexican Radiohead” comparisons with Esta Vez,” which had already won Best Rock Song a little earlier, particularly when the eerie minor-chord arpeggios switched from guitar to keyboards. Throw in the super-heavy coda, and the song makes a decent distant cousin to “Stairway to Heaven.”
Fonseca’s “Arroyito” began as a solo acoustic ballad – Aftermath thought it was similar to the beginning of the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” – but didn’t stay that way for long, augmented by more Brazilian drums and insistent accordion. A pair of grandiose orchestral-rock ballads from the Shirley Bassey-esque Kany Garcia (“Esta Soledad”) and Tommy-like Tommy Torres (“Tarde o Temprano”) set up one more, one of those traditional Grammy closers where it seems like everyone who has already performed comes back out to wave at the crowd while the confetti drops and the credits roll.
This time it was Rosario leading off on the inspirational ballad “No Dudaria” (“I Would Not Last”), before being joined by Juanes, Tanon, Jeremias, Antonio Carmona and Belinda. Like most Grammy closers, it was a little corny (for some reason Meat Loaf sprang to mind), but the sentiment was heartfelt, and like most of the evening’s music, it had no trouble at all translating to this guero’s ears. – Chris Gray