Santana Wins Big at Latin Grammys

The inaugural Latin Grammy Awards ceremony, held Wednesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, was as polished as any other major entertainment-awards show. Which is to say, audiences were treated to bad jokes, so-so musical numbers, jaw-dropping fashions, and Melanie Griffith sounding like a spooked 5-year-old (is that all the Spanish that Antonio's taught her?) as she fumbled through her presentation spiel.

On the other hand, the ceremony — the first awards on prime-time U.S. television dedicated to Spanish- and Portuguese-language music — didn't end with a brawl, nor were any of the performers arrested, unlike the Source Hip-Hop Awards or last week's 2000 MTV Video Music Awards.

Veteran musician Santana — who is rapidly running out of space on his mantle for gold statuettes — added to his collection of eight awards won at the regular Grammys in February, taking home the Record of the Year prize for his collaboration with Mexican band Maná on "Corazon Espinado." Both also won top honors in their respective pop categories for group and instrumental performances.

The Album of the Year honor went to Mexican crooner Luis Miguel for Amarte Es un Placer; "Tu Mirada," from that disc, scored him the award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Marc Anthony's "Dimelo" won the Song of the Year prize for its co-songwriters Anthony (who missed the show, due to complications with his wife's pregnancy), Robert Blades, Angie Chirino, and Cory Rooney.

Raspy-voiced Colombian singer Shakira won two Latin Grammys, one for Best Female Rock Vocal Performances for "Octavo Diá" and the other for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Ojos Así." Ibrahim Ferrer, septuagenarian star of Buena Vista Social Club, was anointed Best New Artist.

In between dishing out prizes and introducing presenters, co-hosts Andy Garcia, Gloria Estefan, and Jimmy Smits fumbled through horrible banter invoking Christina Aguilera's bellybutton, Ricky Martin's underwear, and Britney Spears' breasts ("the finest congas money can buy").

Jennifer Lopez, originally scheduled to co-host and perform at the event, wisely limited her involvement to introducing the opening number and presenting the Record of the Year prize; perhaps she got a look at the evening's script beforehand. Clad in a pink dress as tasteful as her green Grammy number was revealing, Lopez — fresh from the London premiere of The Cell Monday — spent the rest of the evening watching from the audience, next to a bored-looking Puff Daddy.

Despite top-notch production values and plenty of pyrotechnics, the evening's musical performances were largely lackluster. Christina Aguilera, sporting a ruffled scarlet two-piece outfit and a freshly bleached mop, went from a reasonably restrained reading of "Contigo en la Distancia" (from her new Mi Reflejo) into an MTV-style stomp through "Genio Entrapado." 'N Sync joined forces with Puerto Rican salsa quartet Son By Four for a pair of ballads that were pure queso — in any language.

Swivel-hipped Ricky Martin kicked off the opening tribute to recently departed bandleader Tito Puente; would that his mid-tempo rendition of "Oye Como Va" had been half as intoxicating as the figure he cut in a pair of skin-tight, burgundy velvet trousers. Halfway through, Estefan and legendary Cuban diva Celia Cruz — sporting bright blue locks that made Cyndi Lauper look subdued — trotted out to shimmy alongside him.

While there were no star-making turns à la Martin's splashy showstopper at the 1999 Grammy Awards, Mexican singer Alejandro Fernandez (movie-star handsome despite what appeared to be a castoff costume from a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta) turned in the evening's strongest performance, and moments later walked away with the trophy for Best Ranchero Performance for "Mi Verdad."

A celebration of the diversity of Latin musical culture, the two-hour television broadcast, seen in over 120 countries, also served as a testimony to Madison Avenue's ongoing bid to court Latin-American dollars. Sponsors, including Denny's, Sears, Chevrolet, AT&T, and Budweiser, were all promoted heavily via Spanish-language clips. "Esta Bud Es Para Ti," indeed.