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2012 Grammy Awards Nominations in World, Reggae, and Roots Music

Nominees and Winners for the 54th Grammy Awards

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo - 'Songs From a Zulu Farm' (c) Listen 2 Entertainment Group, 2011

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - 'Songs From a Zulu Farm'

(c) Listen 2 Entertainment Group, 2011

The nominees for the 54th Grammy Awards, to be held on February 12, 2012, were announced on November 30, 2011. Unlike in previous years, where the world, reggae, folk, and roots music nominees encompassed dozens of total categories, most world music and ethnic American roots artists are now competing in just a few categories, following an enormous restructuring of the overall Grammy categories that was announced in April of 2011.

Many artists from a variety of genres are up in arms about these cuts, to the point where a group of Latin jazz artists have actually brought a discrimination lawsuit against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the member-directed body that oversees the Grammy Awards. Some of the predictions that various advocacy groups set forth seem to have come true: no Native American artists were nominated for any awards, for example.

[Edit: A well-respected colleague pointed out that George Kahumoku, Jr. was nominated for an award, and asked the reasonable question: "Technically, isn't George Kahumoko Native American? Or does Native Hawaiian not count?" This is a question that has several answers: a political answer, a civil rights answer, an historical answer, and so on. I was looking at it from an ethnomusicological standpoint, wherein Native Hawaiians, who are ethnically Polynesian, have musical traditions that are completely unrelated (at least within the past few millenia) to those of Continental Native Americans. Both, however, are very small minority ethnic groups who are, unintentionally or not, marginalized by the new, slimmer Grammy Categories, which is really the point that needed making. Also worth a note: Hawaiian slack-key guitar player Daniel Ho did get a nomination this year as well, in the Best Pop Instrumental category, for his album E Kahe Malie.]

Overall, I think the slimmed-down categories did have the positive effect of clearing out some chaff, though, and the nominees that made it through the far more competitive process really are a great bunch. Now, without further adieu...

Best World Music Album

It's a big shocker that this category only has four nominees -- that's undoubtedly the result of a tie, but it's surprising to see so few total nominees in a category that's merged from two others -- last year, there were 10 nominees, now there are only four. All of these picks are African, which isn't a surprise, as the world music categories have always been heavily populated by Africans, particularly West and South Africans (ahem, nothing new to see in that regard). If I had to put money down, I'd put it on AfroCubism (though Tinariwen would be a close second, with the others hot on their trail -- a tight race, for sure)... AfroCubism was both a fan favorite and it caused major buzz among insiders, though, so I suspect it'll come out on top.

And the winner is: Tinariwen - Tassili

Best Reggae Album

  • Monty Alexander - Harlem-Kingston Express Live!
  • Israel Vibration - Reggae Knights
  • Stephen Marley - Revelation Part I: The Root of Life
  • Ziggy Marley - Wild and Free
  • Shaggy - Summer in Kingston

I'm pretty sure it's tucked away in the Grammy rules somewhere that at least two Marleys must be nominated each year in the Best Reggae category. I haven't heard Monty Alexander's CD, but based on what I have heard of the others, I think it's Stephen Marley's turn to take home the statue this year.

And the winner is: Stephen Marley - Revelation Part I: The Root of Life

Best Regional Roots Album

  • C.J. Chenier - Can't Sit Down
  • George Kahumoku, Jr. - Wao Akua - Forest of the Gods
  • Rebirth Brass Band - Rebirth of New Orleans
  • Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys - Grand Isle
  • Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra - Not Just Another Polka

I'm going to refrain from picking a winner in this category, as my sweetie happens to be in one of these bands and I just can't be objective, but I will offer some quick commentary: I'm glad to see multiple genres represented: we've got zydeco, Hawaiian slack key guitar, Cajun music, New Orleans Brass (which I'd think would have a comfier home in a jazz category), and polka in the hopper, and that's promising. I'm still sorry that there's not room for every subgenre of American ethnic roots music to have a home here, though.

And the winner is:

Rebirth Brass Band - Rebirth of New Orleans

Though I'm sad to see that all of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as well as the aforementioned Native Americans, are unrepresented among these nominees, my biggest disappointment about these fourteen CDs as a group is that there are almost no women to be found, save the backup singers from Tinariwen. I realize that world and ethnic roots music tend to encompass genres that are historically dominated by men, but there are so many amazing women making music in this world today... why are they not represented at all? Here's hoping that next year, we'll see better diversity in this regard, both among the Grammy nominees and, more generally, among the genres of music they represent.

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