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A good year to pass on the Grammys

The 2012 Grammys are almost here and the entertainment world is all abuzz with that annual affliction “Grammy Fever.” What exactly do these awards mean for the winners and nominees? Well, for an increasingly shrinking list of players the awards will continue to mean big-time money and exposure. But this year the field has shrunk and numerous artists who previously enjoyed access to modest pieces of the Grammy pie will find themselves among the industry’s equivalent of the 99%. Last April, The National Academy of Recorded Arts and Sciences (NARAS) elected to reduce the number of awards by eliminating 31 different categories from award contention, ostensibly to foster greater competition in fewer categories. Some categories that were jettisoned include:

Latin Jazz
Contemporary Jazz
Classical Crossover
Traditional Blues
Traditional World Music
Traditional Gospel
Contemporary Folk
Contemporary R&B Gospel

I would be hard-pressed to name one of last year’s nominees in the Hawaiian category, but that is more a reflection of my ignorance than the nominees’ or the category’s value. It is logical to assume that all of the nominees enjoyed greater recognition this past year as a result of the Grammy’s [I looked it up and Tia Carrere’s Huana Ke Aloha won]. What about Traditional World Music? The Grammy winning album was Ali and Toumani from Ali Farke Touré and Toumani Diabaté, two outstanding Malian musicians who certainly deserve wider recognition. Well, this year there won’t be any nominees in either category because those categories no longer exist.

Being able to print “Grammy nominated group” or “Grammy winning artist” on a CD, event poster, press release, or iTunes bio is a good thing for musicians and helps them build their audience. Now there will be fewer and fewer of those opportunities for artists in the areas that need the exposure most. Whatever your opinion of them, does anyone really need to be reminded about the success of Adele or Katy Perry this past year?

San Francisco’s own master percussionist, John Santos, is leading the charge for a Grammy’s boycott this year to protest NARAS’s reduction of diversity in their music awards. Join him and thousands of other conscientious music-lovers in abstaining from watching the broadcast this year. I had enough of the celebrity-gawking and self-congratulatory industry affair after last year’s broadcast (though it was a good year for Esperanza Spaulding!), that missing it this year is no great lost. Though I am curious to hear the tributes to the late, great Whitney Houston, an extraordinary talent and beloved artist, this annual event is becoming less focused on music and more about the business of the 1%

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