Recordings by venerable and emerging flamenco artists are muted even as Rosalía and Alejandro lead the nominations with flamenco-tinged recordings.
Universal Music Spain’s strong and ample roster of flamenco artists is a point of pride for the label, which uses the slogan “Flamenco es Universal” (“Flamenco is Universal”) in its promotional campaigns.
This year, the company submitted ten albums for consideration in the Latin Grammy’s best flamenco album category, according to label representatives, including titles by contemporary flamenco diva Estrella Morente and the popular cantaor Miguel Poveda, and the live recording of a historic concert at the Montreux Jazz Festival by the late flamenco icon Camarón de la Isla and guitarist Tomatito, a living legend who released another album with the venerable flamenco singer José Merce (which Universal also submitted for Latin Grammy consideration). The debut album by Tomatito’s son, guitarist José del Tomate, could also have been a 2019 Latin Grammy contender.
But although the Latin Grammys won’t be celebrated until Nov. 14, it’s already certain that none of those albums will win a Latin Grammy award this year. That's because this year, there is no flamenco category.
“The Latin Recording Academy follows a strict Awards process,” Academy president and ceo Gabriel Abaroa tells Billboard email. “…One of the rules that applies is that at least 25 approved recordings must be submitted each year” for a category to remain active. Submissions are approved for consideration in the category by what Abaroa describes as “an ad hoc committee comprised of Latin music experts.” that “reviews the entries to admit or not admit the submissions.” (Vocal or instrumental flamenco albums by solo artists, duos or groups containing at least 51% playing time of newly recorded material are eligible for the category, according to the Latin Grammy website.) A vote by academy members subsequently decides the winner among the nominees.
This year, there were not enough flamenco albums entered to reach the 25-album quota. “Because of this non-compliance, the flamenco category did not participate in the 20th Annual Latin Grammy Awards process,” Abaroa explains. “After two years of non-compliance, the category is suspended, and after three years, it is cancelled. We hope to find solutions before that happens.”
Universal Spain marketing coordinator Gabriel Dominguez describes the scrubbing of the flamenco category this year as “an embarrassment.”
“It’s as if the country category was deleted from the Grammy Awards,” he tells Billboard. “It’s not like flamenco itself has disappeared. Flamenco is the image of our country, the image of our label and the image of our culture.”
“Music shouldn’t be about quantity it should be about quality,” says producer Javier Limón, a past winner of two Latin Grammys in the flamenco category (for Paco de Lucía’s 2004 album Cositas Buenas and 2015’s Entre 20 Aguas. A la Música de Paco de Lucía, a tribute to the flamenco guitar great.) He calls the deletion of the flamenco category this year “very sad.”
“Flamenco is one of the most important musical styles is the world,” says Limón, who is currently working with The Paco de Lucía Project, an all-star band formed to carry on the famed guitarist’s legacy that is now on tour in the U.S. (de Lucia himself was a three-time winner in the Best Flamenco Album category). “This year we had great flamenco albums released. We have great singers and guitarists.”
In addition to the slight for both veteran and emerging musicians whose recordings deserve consideration by the academy, there’s a notable irony to the canceling of the flamenco album category in a year in which the Latin Grammy Awards’ top nominees — Alejandro Sanz (with 8 nominations) Rosalía (with 5) — are Spaniards known for their flamenco stylings, mixed, respectively, with pop and Latin and electronic rhythms.
Limón describes the situation in which artists with decades of dedication to the art of flamenco, some who have been influences for Rosalía or Sanz, have been erased from the proceedings as “rather strange.”
The producer, who has worked with Sanz, calls him “one of the most important flamenco ambassadors ever” for bringing flamenco sounds to Latin pop audiences. And the phenomenal success of Rosalía has brought the sound of the timeless genre to global music charts over the past year. But Rosalía, who began studying flamenco as a teen in her native Barcelona, has also been accused by critics in Spain of appropriating some of the music and other elements of Spanish gypsy culture as a vehicle to stardom, while traditional flamenco artists have been unable to break through boundaries to mainstream success. A situation that now seems to be exacerbated by the deletion of the Latin Grammy’s flamenco category, which in past years has been an important factor in bringing new listeners to the music beyond flamenco’s faithful but niche audience.
“Having this category is the only way for a flamenco artist to win a Latin Grammy,” comments Limón.
According to Abaroa, the flamenco album category is one that that has often been at risk over the awards two-decade long history.
“For many years, close allies of the Academy, record labels, and institutions like the AIE (Asociación de Intérpretes y Ejecutantes) helped in reaching out to indie labels, and independent flamenco performers encouraging them to submit product,” the Latin Grammy president reveals. “In some cases, we even purchased product to make sure we were being pro-active. We are available to help, to assist our flamenco constituents, but they must take the lead.”
Universal’s Dominguez embraces the cause. “It’s important for our country and for the world in general that flamenco does not disappear from the Latin Grammys,” he says emphatically. “We should do everything from our side to keep that from happening. Major and indie labels must all take the necessary steps to bring flamenco back.”
He adds that Universal Spain’s support of the genre is ongoing, with the label habitually releasing up to 15 flamenco titles a year. “We invest and will continue to invest a lot of money in flamenco,” Dominguez says. “Even if it isn’t profitable.”
Representatives of Sony Spain declined to reveal how many albums they had entered for this year’s Latin Grammys.
“It’s a shame that the music industry was not able to reach the minimum of submissions that would have kept the academy from deserting such an important category,” label execs said through a spokesperson. “But Sony Spain’s commitment to flamenco remains intact and we will keep betting on this genre as we have done historically.” Flamenco artists on the label’s roster include Niña Pastori and Vicente Amigo, both past Latin Grammy winners, and the young experimentalist Niño de Elche.
"The beauty, subtleness and power of flamenco music deserves our recognition,” Albaroa says. “The participation of albums in our award process requires the involvement of the expert membership in each respective category. They are the ones who steer the process and ensure we are recognizing all worthy and eligible work."