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Latin Grammys: Classy Vibe And Winning Calle 13

Thursday's Latin Grammy Awards featured more than 6,000 entries across 46 categories. Puerto Rican rap duo Calle 13 won nine out of 10 nominations, and Shakira won "Person of the Year." Host Michel Martin discusses highlights with Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd, hosts of NPR Music's Alt-Latino podcast.

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, you had a lot to say about a number of the conversations we had on the program this week - one in particular. We'll hear what was on your mind in our comment segment, BackTalk. That's coming up.

But first, the best and brightest stars of Latin music celebrated the thrill of victory and, you know, the other thing at the 12th annual Latin Grammy Awards last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF "12TH ANNUAL LATIN GRAMMY AWARDS")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken) Latin Grammys.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken) Vegas!

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken) Latin Grammy is...

MARTIN: Joining us now to tell us about the show's highlights and if there were any lowlights are the cohosts of NPR Music's ALT.LATINO podcast. That's an online program about Latin alternative music. Back with us, Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras.

Welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Thanks for having us.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: So it was expected that the Puerto Rican rap duo, Calle 13, would figure prominently in last night's proceedings. They had an astounding 10 nominations, but people weren't just keeping an eye on them because of the nominations, were they? What is it about them that makes it so spicy?

GARSD: Well, they really are the bad boys of Latin music, but they're not rebels without a cause. They have a dirty sense of humor, but they're very loudmouthed and politically committed and so people were wondering what they were going to do at this award show. And they didn't really do anything overtly offensive, but what they did do was, every single time they won one of their nine awards, they would get onstage and mention, comment on what's happening in Latin America now with the student struggles.

Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republican, trying...

MARTIN: Interesting. Give us an example. Felix, give an example. So you said they won nine to 10 nominations.

CONTRERAS: Ten nominations. Yeah. And just - they won the big two, Album of the Year, Record of the Year. They're certainly recognized for their artistic and these guys - I mean, I'll admit, before I started really listening to them and doing our show, I just would have passed them off as - oh, well, they're just another reggaeton band. But once we - thanks to Jasmine, I have to give you props here. OK? Well, thanks to Jasmine and I started listening to the music, they are - I'm impressed.

MARTIN: So I understand that they really did use every award to kind of give some message there, including - was it the last one that they said Latin stations need to stop doing payola. They went right there.

CONTRERAS: They started - Residente, the lead rapper of Calle 13, he started going off on that, you know, and the cameras mysteriously cut off. Now, it could have been because it was late in the show. It was already close to 11:00. Maybe his acceptance speech was going long. Who knows?

GARSD: Or because Univision settled - back in the day, settled, what? Was it a $1 million settlement for a payola allegation? Could be.

MARTIN: But it had an element of danger to it, like in the way that watching John Travolta at the Academy Awards, you kind of wondered, like, what would he say? Or maybe Lady Gaga. Sometimes, you're like, what would she say?

CONTRERAS: Right.

MARTIN: That kind of thing. Just before we go on, before we move on to the other award winners, can we just play something?

GARSD: Oh, absolutely. They did a stunning version of their song, which was really the hit of their latest album, "Latinoamerica," and it was stunning because they played with Gustavo Dudamel, who's a very celebrated Venezuelan composer and his orchestra. It was cinematic.

MARTIN: Who has been a guest on this program. I thought I'd just mention that. OK. Let's play a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LATINOAMERICA")

CALLE 13: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: Since the lyrics really do matter, tell us a little bit about what they're saying.

GARSD: Sure. It's an ode to Latin America. One of my favorite passages of the song is: I am Latin America. (Foreign language spoken) the people?

CONTRERAS: The people.

GARSD: OK. I am Latin America, people without legs, but who walks, anyway.

MARTIN: Wow.

GARSD: Very deep.

MARTIN: Very deep. So who else were some of the big winners of the night?

CONTRERAS: Shakira was understandably. She was nominated in a number of categories, but she won some significant things. In addition to being named the Academy's Person of the Year, she's one the youngest - I think the youngest person to win a Person of the Year Award, which is something that both the Grammys and the Latin Grammys do. The academy picks someone mostly for their humanitarian work and on the Latin Grammys side, it's been Carlos Santana. It's been Placido Domingo.

And this year, it was Shakira because she's done a lot of work with undiscovered mines throughout Colombia that are damaging and killing people. She's done a lot of humanitarian work in Haiti. She's done a lot of stuff and so she was recognized for that and, this week, she also got a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame this year.

GARSD: First Colombian to ever get a star.

MARTIN: OK. Was that a highlight of the program, that she was recognized?

CONTRERAS: She was recognized by Sofia Vergara from "Modern Family," who is also from Colombia, also from Barranquilla, her hometown. But then she gives two very powerful, moving performances.

MARTIN: All right. Well, let's play a little bit. Can we?

GARSD: Well, she did a really good medley of some of her more recent songs and here's the part of her singing her hit song, "Loca."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCA")

SHAKIRA: (Singing in foreign language).

MARTIN: She always gives a great performance, doesn't she?

GARSD: She did. I mean, I got to say, she really did deserve to take Best Female Pop Album for "Sale El Sol."

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with the cohosts of NPR Music's podcast ALT.LATINO, Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras. We're talking about the most exciting moments of last night's 12th Annual Latin Grammy Awards.

On your program, you focus a lot on Latin rock and alternative music.

GARSD: Right.

MARTIN: So were there big winners in this category that you'd like to tell us about?

GARSD: For Best Rock Album, it went to a Mexican rock band, Mana, and the other Latin Rock and Latin Alternative categories went to Mexican band Zoe, and Best Alternative Song went to Calle 13. I got to say, overall, I found that the Latin Rock and Latin Alternative categories were really disappointing.

MARTIN: How come?

GARSD: There were some really interesting nominees. You had Venezuela's La Vida Boheme, which is doing some amazing stuff with, like, punk and '80s dance music. And then you had a Latin Alternative newcomer, Carla Morrison, which is doing a lot of doo-wop style, stuff you've really never heard before. And I guess the Latin Grammys - they chose to go with, you know, a band like Mana, who is very celebrated, but honestly, I mean, my feeling is they've been doing the same thing for the last 30 years.

And I will say that the Latin rock Twitter verse was pretty up in arms about that.

MARTIN: OK. But, you know, one thing is that people often talk about, you know, crossover and, by crossover, they usually mean crossing over from, you know, Latin music to English language. But one of the things I notice is the crossover's going the other way, too, and wasn't there a collaboration last night between - what was it? Romeo and...

CONTRERAS: Romeo Santos, who was lead singer of a bachata band. Bachata's a style from Dominican Republic called aventura. And then he did a performance with Usher is a very traditional bachata style, so...

MARTIN: How was it?

CONTRERAS: It was - go ahead.

GARSD: It's good. I actually recently caught up with - I'm a big bachata fan, actually, and...

MARTIN: Not a big Usher fan?

GARSD: Oh, no. Sure.

MARTIN: I mean, come on.

CONTRERAS: A big Romeo Santos fan?

GARSD: Hey, I mean, it was like...

MARTIN: OK. What's not to like, but...

GARSD: ...a dimples overdose.

MARTIN: Dimples overdose? Was it good? You thought it was good?

GARSD: It was good. I actually...

MARTIN: Because I'm not going to pretend to be objective.

GARSD: I recently caught up with Romeo Santos for an interview and he's launching the solo album, which features a lot of - it features Lil Wayne, Usher. And what he said to me is, I want people to cross over into my world. And props to Usher for doing a genre that's not what he usually does.

MARTIN: We have a clip, right?

GARSD: Sure. Yeah.

MARTIN: Let's hear it. Let's hear it. Too bad we can't see it, but we'll hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PROMISE")

USHER: (Singing in foreign language). I give you my heart, girl, but you got to promise (unintelligible). Promise you'll hold me, touch me, love me way past forever.

GARSD: Yeah. He's kind of making faces over there.

MARTIN: Is it a little warm in here? I don't know. Did somebody turn the heat up? I'm sorry. I just...

GARSD: Felix is making faces in the corner.

MARTIN: No, he's not. All right, Felix. What did you think of the program, overall?

CONTRERAS: You know, one thing that I wanted to point out about the Latin Grammys is, like, the Latin Grammys would be like if the Grammys included the Country Music Awards and the Blues Awards and the BET Awards. They'd have to cover the entire spectrum of Latin music, so there's a lot of stylistic changes. You go from, you know, a lot of percussion, a lot of dancing to guys with accordions and cowboy hats.

You know, and it doesn't take away from one or the other. It's just a very abrupt stylistic change. That's one of difficulties built into the ceremony, but other than that, I thought it was an interesting show.

GARSD: I was surprised. I actually enjoyed watching it this year. Last year, it was funny, I guess. Last year, it was a lot more circusy and a little cheesier. I mean, this year, there weren't...

MARTIN: What do you mean? There was more shtick?

GARSD: Yes. It was...

CONTRERAS: Last year...

GARSD: There were synchronized swimmers onstage last year. I thought this year was very classy. It was very tame, but it was really fascinating and the music was good and...

MARTIN: Much more focused just on the music this year, not...

GARSD: I thought it was actually one of the better awards shows I've seen so far this year. I will say my only complaint is I feel like the Latin Grammys really would do well to do, like, an in memoriam of some of the artists that have passed away this year. I mean...

MARTIN: Which is what the Academy Awards does...

GARSD: Right.

MARTIN: ...for example, and it's always a very moving part of the program.

GARSD: And, I mean, I was disappointed. This year, we lost the father of Colombian salsa, Joe Arroyo, and you know, I would really have liked for the televised ceremony to just pay an homage to the guy. I mean, he was huge and he influenced absolutely everyone who was in that room.

MARTIN: Well, maybe they're listening and maybe they will take note.

GARSD: I hope so.

MARTIN: We'll call it the Jasmine segment. OK. So what should we go out on?

GARSD: Well, I think we should go out on (unintelligible) by (unintelligible). He was in one of the urban categories. The urban category this year had some heavy hitters and even though, you know, there was a funny comment on Twitter saying that Calle 13 basically took everything, including the place holders.

But, you know, (unintelligible) definitely had one of the hits of the summer and, even though he was overlooked, it's a good song to go out on.

MARTIN: Well, we'll give him some shine now. OK. (Unintelligible). OK. Here we go. Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras are the cohosts of NPR Music's ALT.LATINO podcast. It's an online program about Latin alternative music. And they were nice enough to walk down the hall and join us in our studio in Washington. Thank you both.

GARSD: Always a pleasure.

CONTRERAS: Thanks so much, as always.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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