The controversial elimination of 31 musical categories from the Grammy Awards, including Latin Jazz, has created a cultural divide, which has led many ethnic artists to skip the Grammys and attend the Alternative Grammy Celebration instead.
Many of the genre categories cut were primarily awarded to people of color—sounds that express the soul of the Mission—Latin Jazz, Banda and Tejano, to name a few.
The “Mission soul” as we know it today was cultivated over time and evolved in the thick of the rich political landscape of the Civil Rights and Chicano movements of the ‘70s.
Artists like Carlos Santana, Mongo Santamaria, Malo, El Chicano, Tierra and the Fania All Stars echoed through the streets. The fusion of these sounds and the intersection of the hippie, Black Panther, and Latino/Chicano movimiento came together to define the Mission District.
“[In the Mission] music and politics are never separate,” said Roberto Lovato, a journalist, activist and “son of the Mission.”
Lovato is the Co-Founder of Presente.org, a national organization that works to turn up the voice of the Latino community.
“Music and politics … have accompanied, inspired and influenced me and my work,” he said.
Lovato has fond memories of growing up in the Mission, listening to Congeros at Dolores Park and hearing Santana in the Streets as the soundtrack to the political struggle of the ‘70s.
He sees the category eliminations as a bi-product of an anti-immigrant political climate.
“This is yet another act of increased repression that sends the wrong message to our community,” Lovato said. “Communities use music to give themselves a sense of power and beauty, and this is an act that is repressing this power … a ruthless act to make us more soulless.”
Lovato and Presente.org joined forces with Mission-based musician and activist John Santos and Grammywatch.org to organize a protest and an Alternative Grammy Celebration.
Santos, a Grammy nominee, worked with organizers to put together a solid line-up of Latin Jazz musicians including himself, Bobby Sanabaria, Bobby Matos, Oscar Hernandez, Susi Hansen, Pablo Calogero and Elliott Caine to play at Mama Juanas Latin Lounge in Los Angeles the night of the Grammys.
Presente.org also has an online petition that anyone can sign, which will be sent to the Neil Portnow, President of the Recording Academy, demanding that these categories return as soon as possible.
Carlos Santana and Cindy Blackman stand in solidarity with this Campaign and wrote a letter to the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences—the group who runs the Grammys—stating that, “Without Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, João Gilberto and countless others, there would be no Santana.”
Without Santana, there would be no Mission soul, and without the existence of these categories we are at risk of losing that.