Cuban protest anthem, salsa king Blades reign over Latin Grammys

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The anthem of this summer's protests in Cuba cleaned up at the Latin Grammys Thursday, winning prizes including the coveted best song, as the gala's Person of the Year Ruben Blades won best album.

The 22nd edition of the awards show celebrating hits from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking worlds returned to an in-person ceremony in Las Vegas for the 2021 show, complete with electrifying performances and impressive outfits.

The 73-year-old Blades, a Panamanian innovator of salsa and swing, was heralded as 2021's Person of the Year which celebrates musical contributions as well as activism, before snagging the prestigious Album of the Year and Best Salsa Album for "SALSWING!"

The most-nominated artist of the ceremony Camilo won four awards out of 10 nominations. The eccentric Colombian artist also got the audience dancing during a barefoot performance of the cumbia-infused "Vida de Rico" -- which won awards including best pop song -- and the champeta-pop song "KESI."

Genre-busting Spanish rapper C. Tangana, who nabbed three prizes Thursday, also took the stage in an elaborate show of his hit "Ingobernable," sitting at a table decked out with fruits and wine in a flamenco-inflected staging that also featured last year's big Latin Grammy winner Natalia Lafourcade.

Chilean singer Mon Laferte -- who won for best singer-songwriter album -- as usual stunned on the red carpet in a baby bump-baring striped skirt suit before giving a stirring performance in another gown that exposed her pregnant belly, this time embroidered with vaginas and uteruses.

The hit "Patria Y Vida" (Homeland and Life) snagged the gramaphone for top song and best urban song, after soundtracking the wave of protests that shook Cuba in July.

The hit's title plays on one of the Cuban revolution's iconic slogans "Patria O Muerte" -- Homeland or Death -- which Fidel Castro would often close his speeches with.

"This is for my country, for freedom of expression, for the freedom of Cubans," said Descemer Bueno in accepting the award for the smash that's notched more than 9 million views on YouTube.

Along with Bueno the song's artists include Yotuel, Gente De Zona, El Funky and Maykel Osorbo, who has been imprisoned since May 2021.

The 23-year-old Colombian artist Juliana Velasquez won the coveted Best New Artist award, as Karol G won best reggaeton performance for "Bichota."

Puerto Rican reggaeton star Ozuna went home empty-handed but not without sporting an iridescent bomber jacket to give a dramatic performance of "Del Mar" and "Senor Juez."

And Latin trap superstar Bad Bunny won best urban music album before closing out the night's festivities in a shower of fire during his performance of "Maldita Pobreza."

- Dedicated to the 'Queen of Sertanejo' -

Christina Aguilera returned to the Latin Grammys stage after winning her first Latin Grammy prize in 2001 for "Mi Reflejo," a record of Spanish-language covers of her English-language hits.

The artist was born in New York City to an Ecuadoran-American family but did not grow up speaking Spanish.

But on Thursday night she hit the stage in a lace corseted body suit for a Latina-rich performing of "Pa Mis Muchachas" with fellow stars Becky G, Nathy Peluso and Nicki Nicole, also offering a live debut of her song "Somos Nada."

Conspicuously absent from the gala was the Colombian superstar J. Balvin, who boycotted the ceremony after arguing that it did not do enough to honor the explosive popularity of reggaeton.

The issue has long been a flashpoint at the Latin Grammys but this year's comments from J Balvin drew more eyerolls than support, including from fellow artists who cast Balvin as salty rather than on point.

The Latin Recording Academy's head Manuel Abud opened the ceremony's pre-show -- during which the vast majority of the day's 53 prizes are doled out ahead of the televised portion -- with comments honoring Marilia Mendonca, who died in a plane crash on November 5 at 26 years old.

The "Queen of Sertanejo" -- one of Brazil's most popular styles, which comes from the country's rural backlands -- was a massively popular revolutionary of the genre oft dominated by men.

Abud offered "solidarity with the Brazilian community over the tragic loss of Marilia Mendonca."

"I propose to everyone to dedicate this ceremony to the memory of Marilia and her musical legacy."

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