Fury over 'racist' cut in number of Grammy awards

Thirty-one categories, including Latin jazz, no longer rate a music gong

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The Independent Culture

Nominations for the next round of Grammys, which will be announced this week, will be the most controversial in the award's 50-year history, amid angry accusations of racism and insensitivity. Some of the most respected musicians in the world are demanding that the cut in the number of gongs be reversed.

Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon and Herbie Hancock are among former Grammy winners who have attacked the awards' organisers over the controversial decision. Entire genres of music will have disappeared when the latest nominations are announced in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Music artists such as Bono and Sting are being increasingly criticised for not speaking out about the issue.

The move by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (Naras) means there will be only 78 awards up for grabs when the Grammy winners are announced next February – down from 109 last year.

Previous gongs for Hawaiian, Native American and Cajun music now come under one "regional roots" award. Contemporary and traditional blues have been merged into blues, and Latin music categories have gone from seven categories to four, with Latin jazz dropped entirely.

The decision to cut 30 per cent of the awards has been branded racist by, among others, Santana, who asked: "Why do they cut only this music? Why not other music? I think they're racist... You can't eliminate black gospel music or Hawaiian music or American Indian music or Latin jazz music, because all this music represents what the United States is: a social experiment."

The singer and guitarist Bonnie Raitt, winner of nine Grammys, said: "The diversity found in Latin jazz, Cajun and zydeco music, Hawaiian music and Native American music, among the 31 categories lost, is an important part of our heritage, and should be recognised as such by the academy."

Another Grammy winner, Paul Simon, slammed the move as a "disservice to many talented musicians".

A legal battle is now under way, with Latin jazz musicians Bobby Sanabria, Mark Levine, Ben Lapidus and Eugene Marlow suing the organisers of the Grammys for scrapping the Latin jazz category and "devaluing" the genre.

Sanabria told The Independent on Sunday last night: "When you notice that more than 70 per cent of the categories that have been cut are racially or ethnically based, then you have to say something. People at the academy are so culturally insensitive that they don't know what they've done is racist. But it is. I was hoping that people like Sting and Bono would rally and say something, but they haven't. People don't say anything when it doesn't affect them."

In a statement on its website, Naras claims its decision was motivated by a desire for fairness. "A great deal of research, discussion and evaluation led to a call for change, embracing the idea that a transformation of the entire awards structure would ensure that each genre would be treated in parity to others."

But the academy is under mounting pressure from a campaign that is gaining momentum, with thousands signing up to a petition by grammywatch.org demanding that the decision be reversed. Earlier this month, the San Francisco Arts Commission unanimously passed a resolution backing the call – describing the lost categories as "music genres that are truly reflective of the contemporary musical landscape and cultural diversity of the United States".