Latin Grammys gear up in Houston

Cafe Tacuba, Juanes have most nominations

HOUSTON -- With an eclectic slate of stars -- led by Mexican alternative rock group Cafe Tacuba and Colombian rocker Juanes vying for top honors -- the Latin Grammys were making their Houston debut Thursday by showcasing the diversity of Latin music.

Cafe Tacuba, a pioneering quartet that has been a fixture on the Mexican music scene for two decades, is up for six nominations, including album of the year for its release "Sino," which was also nominated as best alternative album. Its single "Volver a Comenzar" was nominated as record of the year and best alternative song.

Another song "Esta Vez" is up for song of the year and rock song of the year.

Juanes, the singer-songwriter from Medellin with a passion for raising awareness of land mines and other social issues, earned five nominations, including album of the year and best pop male album for "La Vida ... Es Un Ratico." Juanes, who has already won 12 Latin Grammys, is two shy of Alejandro Sanz's record of 14 awards. His love song "Me Enamora" is in the running for song and record of the year, as well as for best short-form video.

Gustavo Santaolalla, an Argentine musician-turned-composer whose scores for "Babel" and "Brokeback Mountain" earned him two Oscars, also received five nominations, including two apiece for record of the year and song of the year for his work as producer for Cafe Tacuba and Juanes. He is also nominated for best short-form video for his work with tango-fusion band Bajofondo.

This year's awards also mark the rise of a new generation of female singer-songwriters, with women nominated in many of the top categories. In the best new artist category, four of the five nominees are women.

Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas, another Santaolalla protege, was up for four awards, including record and song of the year for "El Presente" from her "MTV Unplugged" CD, which was recorded in Mexico City and is also nominated for best alternative album and long-form video.

Newcomer Kany Garcia, a pop singer from Puerto Rico, also garnered four nominations, including album of the year, best female pop vocal album and best new artist for her debut CD, "Cualquier Dia." Her single "Hoy Ya Me Voy" was nominated for best song of the year.

Also nominated in the best new artist category is Ximena Sarinana, a Mexican singer-songwriter winning raves on the alt-Latino scene.

Mexican mariachi legend Vicente Fernandez, who had criticized the awards for not recognizing Mexican regional music, is nominated for album of the year for "Para Siempre." That category also includes African-born, Spanish-based Buika, whose music fuses soul, jazz and funk. She was nominated for "Nina de Fuego," which features Buika's versions of traditional flamenco, Spanish coplas and Mexican rancheras.

Several acts were up for more than one award, including Latin pop diva Gloria Estefan, who was honored with the 2008 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year award Wednesday night. Estefan also was nominated in three categories: best traditional tropical album, best tropical song and best long-form music video.

The Latin Grammys, which are marking their ninth year, give out awards in 49 categories spanning a broad prism of musical styles -- from ranchera to rock en espanol. And the show's lineup of scheduled performers also reflects that array of genres.

One of this year's highlights should be a joint performance by Juanes and Grammy winner John Legend. Three musical legends -- Estefan, Carlos Santana and Jose Feliciano -- were also set to take the stage together.

Other performers include nominees Cafe Tacuba, Venegas and Garcia; merengue queen Olga Tanon; flamenco artist Antonio Carmona; and Mexican banda singers Jenni and Lupillo Rivera.

The diversity theme is apt for Houston, where the Latin Grammys are seen as a chance to showcase the cultural riches and multicultural mix of the sprawling metropolis. With a population of 5.5 million, Houston is the country's fourth-largest city. About 42 percent of the population is Hispanic.

Last year, the Latin Grammys were held in Las Vegas. The awards ceremony has also been held in Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

The show, which will take place at the Toyota Center, is scheduled to air in Spanish on Univision Network stations. Last year's broadcast reached about 12 million viewers. This year's broadcast is expected to be seen in more than 100 countries.

Most of the trophies will be handed out during a pre-show prior to the nationally televised program.