LOS ANGELES: The third annual Latin Grammys will air this week from Hollywood, and organizers are hoping that this year will end the rumors of favoritism that have plagued the event from its inception.
Since its debut in 2000, the awards have divided the Latin music community, as some claim that the event is biased against Mexican regional artists and instead favors those backed by Cuban-American music mogul Emilio Estefan.
Estefan and his wife, singer Gloria Estefan, helped create the awards and founded the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' (LARAS) - and were prominently featured in the inaugural show.
Emilio Estefan received six nominations, and was given a "person of the year" honor. Gloria Estefan was a featured performer. Estefan-backed artists such as Shakira also received numerous nominations.
That alleged favoritism caused LA-based Mexican music label Fonovisa to boycott the event, along with a number of Mexican artists who felt their styles of music were shunned by organizers, despite strong record sales and critical acclaim.
The second year (last year), the awards were moved from Miami to Los Angeles when anti-communist Cuban protesters threatened to cause disruptions.
But the event, scheduled for September 11, was ultimately canceled after the terrorist attacks.
LARAS is working to overcome the controversy by creating a grassroots public relations campaign aimed at educating the academy on the process by which winners are selected. Targeting the almost 4,000 members of LARAS, the effort seeks to inform members of their rights and duties regarding the peer-to-peer nominations and voting.
"We have been doing a lot of outreach, especially in Mexico," said Ron Roecker, head of communications for the academy.
The Los Angeles office of Weber Shandwick Worldwide was also enlisted to help with "key messages" and "media training," according to Roecker.
LARAS is also working on music education programs in schools, and has added board members and award categories to better reflect the diversity of Latin music.
Roecker said LARAS is relying heavily on its board members for outreach to individual artists and music insiders.
"Since we're nonprofit, it's the legs and arms of the board that are really able to spread the word," he explained.
But unlike the regular Grammys, which focus on music released in the US, the Latin Grammys take into account artists from across the globe. That makes outreach to the scattered membership a difficult task.
"I think all of the efforts that have been happening are really best seen in the nominations for this year," said Roecker, pointing out that Columbian Carlos Vives received the most nominations. Fonovisa artists also earned eight nominations, and Vicente Fernandez, Mexico's "King of Ranchera Music," will be honored as this year's person of the year.