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President Barack Obama was the opening act for the Latin Grammys.
It was the talk in Las Vegas during the 15th edition of the awards show, which started more than ten minutes late than originally planned as Obama gave a speech directly from the White House about immigration. The awards show began moments later featuring Calle 13 in a splashy, vibrant and colorful performance of “El Aguante.”
The presidential speech filled the air with optimism and did not upstage the often-unexpected night’s winners, including Uruguayan crooner Jorge Drexler, who took the prize for Record of the Year, with the late Paco de Lucia taking Album of the Year. Enrique Iglesias snagged Song of the Year for “Bailando,” and pop singer Mariana Vega was named Best New Artist. “It was very difficult to win because there are major names in the category,” Drexler said of fellow nominees Marc Anthony, Calle 13 and Prince Royce, among others.
Unlike past years, there were no big winners of the night. Iglesias snagged three awards, while Calle 13, Drexler and Carlos Vives all got two.
Backstage, Calle 13’s Rene Perez, a.k.a. Residente, and Eduardo Cabra celebrated their wins, which included prizes for Best Urban Music Album and Best Alternative Song. Residente conceded that “the channel” — a reference to broadcaster Univision — advised them not to let their political ideologies be center stage during their Latin Grammy night. During his performance, however, Residente wore a T-shirt with the words “Ayotzinapa 43 missing” as a way to spread the word on the students in Mexico who vanished and were later found dead.
“We had the song programmed before the Obama speech was announced,” says Residente. “It’s a coincidence that this song is relatable in many ways around the world.”
Calle 13, nominated in nine categories, earlier in the pre-telecast won for Best Urban Music Album and Best Alternative Song, while Iglesias’ global hit “Bailando” (featuring Descemer Bueno and Gente De Zona) took prizes for Best Urban Performance and Best Urban Song. Lila Downs, Niña Pastori and Soledad won for Best Folk Album for Raíz.
For Downs, it was an emotional Latin Grammy outing as she dedicated her trophy to the 43 Mexican students who have been causing an international uproar. “These are difficult moments for us,” Downs said as she accepted her trophy. “But we will come out ahead and we will find justice.”
Backstage, Downs was asked about what she was hoping for in Obama’s speech. “We voted four years ago,” Downs said. “We are living in difficult times and the government has not responded well to those who have disappeared in different parts of the world.”
Calle 13’s Residente, took time to thank other artists in the urban world for their work, dedication and inspiration. “I want to thank all the urban rappers who have written real rap,” Residente said. “Telling those stories about the streets is essential and for me it’s where urban music really happens.”
Backstage, artists spoke about their musical wins, but the conversation throughout the night shifted to Obama’s speech immediately before the Latin Grammy telecast.
“Let’s see what Obama says,” said an optimistic Poncho Lizarraga, a member of Mexican group La Banda el Recodo, who earlier took the prize for Best Banda Album. “It’s going to be an announcement that will not favor all immigrants, but this country has opened the doors [for many] and we need to be grateful for what this country has given us.”
This pre-telecast ceremony — which this year was renamed the Premiere Awards — opened with Brazilian pop singer Anitta who set the tone of the early evening with the soothing song “Zen.”
“The biggest winner is the music,” said Gabriel Abaroa, president and CEO of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, welcomed the nominees at the MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theatre for the pre-telecast.
One of the first prizes of the early ceremony went to Placido Domingo for Best Classical Album for his work on Verdi.
The Best Brazilian Contemporary Pop Album went to Ivete Sangalo for Multishow Ao Vivo — Ivete Sangalo 20, while the Best Brazilian Rock Album went to Erasmo Carlos‘ Gigante Gentil. Songstress Maria Rita won for Best Musica Popular Brasileira Album for her work on Coração A Batucar.
Panamanian singer/songwriter Ruben Blades, known for Afro-Cuban salsa, won for Best Tango Album for his album Tangos. Best Flamenco Album went to Canción Andaluza from Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, who died in February at the age 66. His wife, Gabriela Carrasco and her children, received the award. “This was his last album and he left us an immense gift,” Carrasco said. “This is the gift of sensibility and a new bridge for music in Spain.”
Brazilian singer/songwriter Caetano Veloso, who last year was honored as person of the year, won for Best Brazilian Song for his “A Bossa Nova É Foda,” while Colombian singer Fonseca won for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Fonseca Sinfonico, and Carlos Vives won for Best Tropical Song for “Cuando Nos Volvamos a Encontrar.”
Colombian singer Juanes took home the prize for Best Pop/Rock, Molotov won for Best Rock Album, Jorge Drexler got a trophy for Best Singer-Songwriter Album, and Mexican group Conjunto Primavera won for Best Norteño Album.
Spanish musician Joan Manuel Serrat, who was this year’s Person of the Year, spoke to the press backstage about his career highlights. “I’ve written more than 400 songs and it would be difficult to pick one,” Serrat said. “These days in my life I am happy.”
For a full list of the winners, go to LatinGrammy.com.
This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.
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