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The formidable force of Latin Music

29 November 2023, 15:55

Steven Loftin heads to Spain for the biggest night in Latin music as the 24th Latin GRAMMY Awards kicks off its first-ever international ceremony in Sevilla.

Latin music has been growing exponentially, and the 2023 Latin Grammys are a prime example of the glorious melting pot Ibero-America offers.

"I strongly believe that we've always had the elements, ingredients, and the sounds to seduce the entire world and connect with it," says Pedro Capó. A longtime feature of the Latin Grammy's, the Puerto Rican singer's position is one that speaks from both experience and wisdom. With millions of streams and social media followers, his first nomination came in 2015, but long before this, his grandparents were fixtures of Latin America – his grandfather was treasured singer Bobby Capó and grandmother was former Miss Puerto Rico Irma Nydia Vázquez – not to mention his musician father Bobby Capó Jr. If anyone can reflect the standing of Latin music in 2023 it would be Capó.

Likening this year's event as a "good breather from Vegas," Capó urges that he "Really wants to embrace" the ceremony. "I mean, you walk around and talk about art," he says gesturing outside of the hotel he and other artists are stationed in for the day, "you know, I feel like we've forgotten about architecture in these times, we just make things that are practical and functional. You have to breathe it in every step, and my mind goes into the past – I imagine what was going on here centuries ago, and to celebrate Latino music in the motherland, you know, it's quite a thing."

Pedro Capo

Taking over Seville in Andalusia after a €19 million deal (with the city expecting profits of over €500 million), the small streets and windings passages are playing host to some of Ibero-American music's titans and newcomers, and their gaggles of fans waiting outside of hotels for a small glimpse. While there may be some disgruntlement amongst the Latin music followers that the ceremony's European placement this year ignores the South American bulk, the overall feeling throughout the event is one of celebration – with a healthy dose of ambition.

For the first ceremony to be held outside of fabulous Las Vegas, the Latin Grammy's trip to the richly historical city marks an opportunity for acts to come together in the name of celebrating their heritage and their future under a European sky. It's also a move meant to develop the Latin market on a global scale – the event being held on the International Day of Flamenco (November 16th) is a prescient marker of its intended symbolism. While everything is indeed rooted in tradition, the future-facing element is embracing all facets and genres of music the Latin touch embraces.

Ibero-America (all Portuguese or Spanish-speaking territories) is entwined with a wonderfully tangible language and passion, and that is none more prevalent than at this year's ceremony. First established in 2000 to satiate the requirement thanks to Latin music's overwhelming populous; from rock to pop, to the religious to the local, the awards and their relative musical components are a complex beast made up of many working and moving parts, each as integral to the wider scope of their cultures.

In recent years the Latin music industry has boomed to epic proportions, from the "Despecito"'s to the Ricky Martin's, to the Shakira's, the Bad Bunny's, and Rosalia's, it's a behemoth that can feel worlds away from the mainstream English media until those larger-than-life names appear. But as the awards made their way out into the hands of the winners during the glitzy ceremony, including Album of The Year winner Karol G (Mañana Sera Bonito), and Song of The Year winner Shakira ("Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53") – who's own performance with producer-of-the-moment Bizzarap was preceded by a flamenco from Shakira – past and future all collided with starry-eyed ambition under the roof of Seville's Conference and Exhibition Centre.

Since each passing year sees the ceremony and the interest in Latin music growing with the presence of artists continuing to permeate the Western charts, there's more reason than ever to discover what this means for those on the inside.

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Shakira, Bizarrap, Kevyn Mauricio Cruz and Santiago Alvarado, Getty Images for Latin Recording Academy

"I mean, it's a validation for us Latino artists, you know?" Capó's cool conviction is one that each name across the Grammy's week roars with. Its global expansion comes in a day when the readily available means more listeners than ever are tuning into those vibrant sounds, no matter the language barrier.

"I really believe that it has a lot to do with the way that we consume music nowadays," he continues, "I was just talking about how back in the day, for somebody who listened to a new album in England, perhaps somebody had to bring a physical CD or a cassette. Nowadays, people gravitate naturally to what they connect with and latin music seems to be, you know, the favourite dish, and I think it's because we have this innate happiness in vibrance that that people connect with naturally."

He ascribes the flourishing Latin market to the current global climate. "We're living through such heavy times that I think people need spaces to exhale. And I think we bring that to the table. We remind the world that regardless of the tribulations we're going through, there is also that five minutes and that happiness and I think we represent it in everything we do with our food and our music and, you know, every expression."

Dante Spinetta

Expression is a key facet of Latin and Spanish culture. From the smallest restaurants to the looming cathedral in its centre, or the bustling, larger bars that populate the winding, archaic streets of Seville comes the same vibrant Spanish energy. It's a palpable rush that's as addictive as it is romantic. Capó isn't alone in his line of thinking. Best Alternative Song winner, Argentine genre-bouncer Dante Spinetta ("El Lado Oscuro del Corazón") reckons that the spotlight shining on Latin music is down to the feelings they convey: "I can listen to, like maybe, I don't know, a Japanese album and I can't understand what they're saying – but I feel the vibe," he implores.

"It's the soul of the music and that's what is happening now. We always listen to songs in English, sometimes we don't understand what they say but it sounds dope - and now it's happening the other way. Now people in America are listening to Spanish words and they don't understand what we're saying but they're dancing, and they feel the vibe - that's cool. That's what it's all about."

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Arde Bogotá

Indie rockers, and Murcia natives, Arde Bogotá are new to the game. Having found their ascension during the pandemic years, 2023 is the year they're nominated for two Latin Grammys (Best Rock Song, Best Rock Album). Taking a more measured approach to their view of the ongoing celebrations, they're still resoundingly positive: "There's something great about the fact that with this event, although we are speaking in English, this event is mainly triggered by the fact that we all share a language when we make music," says vocalist Antonio García. "I think that it should be the tool to try to be a very big, local culture, around our other languages. And particularly in music, but in many other things, hopefully to one day have a very big Spanish speaking rock singer would be great."

Continuing Garcia says: "That's the key to it. We love many, many English speaking artists...for example, the rest of our partners in the band, they don't speak English fluently, but they love Metallica yet they don't really know the lyrics."

Of the ceremony itself, drummer José Ángel Mercader adds: "This platform allows other people that are just curious to get into the, you know, categories, diving to, you know, debating who these people are. And that's cool, because it allows us to get to reach to lead to an American audience."

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Nicki Nicole

These global and local collisions are what make music as a medium such a formidable beast. It transcends and bridges, and Latin music is one of the largest melting pots. With this idea, no facet of Latin music is more popular right now than hip-hop. The best Urban category has boasted some of the biggest names, with previous winners including Bad Bunny (who has won a Latin Grammy every year since 2019). One such act is Argentine Best Urban Music nominee Nicki Nicole. Recognising her own country's rising tide within Latin music, she softly declares: "Of course I'm really proud to be part of the movement, and these roots – it's not just Latin in general, in particular that's important. It's something that also from Argentina is coming through in particular because all the artists from Argentina share similar values, similar goals, and that's really making a difference in particular for the music we're bringing out of the country."

"And I'm of course really proud of all the artists – Rosalia, Karol G – but in particular for the artists from Argentina I'm most proud of – it's great that Latin Grammys is making this recognition and she feels that it's appropriate for people that he's doing something right something good and trying to innovate in every step of the way."

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María José Llergo

While each country associated with Latin music is bolstering its ranks, the local effect is also noticeable on home turf. Marìa Josè Llergo is an Andalusia native. Her 2023 album ULTRABELLEZA marries the traditional story-telling elements of flamenco, with a more synth-driven, pulsating earnestness. Her approach to her music is rooted in her familial ancestry. Growing up in Pozoblanco, she recalls the story of her grandfather: "[He] used to work there, he prepared the land for harvesting, while he was doing that he always said the music that he used to sing was flamenco." With flamenco deeply rooted in storytelling – not too far removed from the American Blues for its often-anguished tints and inescapable emotional weight – it was here she found her inspiration igniting. Mimicking her grandfather singing first, she made her way through violin training, to jazz, before reaching the pop-fuelled concoction that brings her ancestry gliding into the 21st century.

Her week also included an impassioned performance at an Amazon Music showcase earlier in the week in which Llergo, with heartfelt grace, commanded a crowd of execs and insiders. Llergo's music in particular befits the deep-rooted traditional elements of Latin and Spanish music, coalescing the present with the past. She also has open-hearted words for any visitors: "Because so many people, and so many cultures from so many different places [are here], once everyone is here, no one is foreign."

For all the prickliness around the decision to host this year's event in a European city, the spotlight it has inevitably thrust upon these inferno-blazing cultures is priceless. With the event wrapped up – and the likes of Karol G going onto the Billboard Awards days later (winning top Latin Female Artist and Top Latin Touring Artist) – Latin music feels more prominent and geared up than ever. It's a beast that's more than sustainable on its own, but one whose heart and soul deserve the world to notice, and Seville is just the start of its new global glory.

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