Byline: Eyder Peralta, Times-Union staff writer
MIAMI -- The signs all over the city note that this time around, the Latin Grammys will finally take place in Miami. The lightpoles along the city's highways are lined with plastic banners announcing the Sept. 3 date. In front of the American Airlines Arena -- where the Latin Grammys are to be held tonight -- there is a monstrous billboard advertising the awards. Just around the corner, there's another with Juanes, the Colombian rocker, strutting with his electric guitar and touting his Grammy nominations.
And throughout the city, there is an awkward lull. There is little talk of protests, and the only reminders of the feud between the Latin Association of Recording Arts and Sciences and the exiled Cuban community in Miami are numbers that seem to almost magically appear on the long facades of one of Miami's most historic buildings, The Freedom Tower. The arena is one side of the street, its parking lots lined with freight trucks and staff members loitering on the long stairs. On the other side is the tower, a symbol of immigrant freedom, Miami's version of Ellis Island.
The gist of the battle is that, for years, the recording academy has nominated Cuban musicians -- musicians who still live in Cuba and have at times spoken out in favor of Fidel Castro's Communist regime -- and invited them to perform.
For the last two years, the Latin Grammys have been scheduled for Miami, but because of the threat of protests from the city's politically influential Cuban community, who consider support of Cuban-based artists to be support for Castro's regime, the show has been moved to Los Angeles.
The numbers on the Freedom Tower are supposed to be a peace offering of sorts. The Cuban American National Foundation owns the building, and the numbers are designed to be symbols of free speech, both in support of the crowd of protesters who are expected to make a showing tonight, and in support of the free speech of the musicians inside, CANF officials said in recent interviews. The numbers, which are well lighted, change regularly and stand for different things. The number one is in honor of the First Amendment to the Constitution, 143 stands for the estimated number of journalists killed in Cuba. CANF has been cagey about the meaning of all the numbers, saying they will release the full list at a later time.
This year, however, the controversy has been calmed somewhat by several factors. Cuban nominees like Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club fame were not invited to perform at the ceremonies, which will be hosted by sitcom star George Lopez. And, they probably won't be able to attend the awards because so far, post-Sept. 11 delays have kept them from getting travel visas in time to enter the U.S.
Inside the arena Monday, the controversy seemed far away and rehearsals went as scheduled. The empty space was lighted brilliantly by thousands of lights on the stair-like banks. The 20,000-seat arena seemed dwarfed by the sheer size of the stage. Molotov, a Mexican rap-metal band that's nominated for four awards, including record of the year, was running through a sound check.
Their song Frijolero (Beaner), which earned them one Grammy nomination, is a biting tune laden with political commentary about racism, immigration and war. The band is scheduled to perform last tonight.
"The musical spectrum in radio and on television is governed by pop and that tends to have a very banal tendency and very meaningless content," said Paco Ayala, one of the band's two bass players. "And truth is, you are living a much more real situation in the streets of the Third World, in Mexico and Latin America, and it almost comes natural to talk about situations that make you uncomfortable and write social criticism with wit and irony. …