It is fitting that the week leading to the 16th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awardsc, The Biggest Night in Latin Music®, a celebration of its present and future, beings with an event honoring the people whose contributions have helped shape its sound.
This morning, The Latin Recording Academy® presented Leandro "Gato" Barbieri, Ana Belén and Víctor Manuel, Angela Carrasco, Djavan, El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico and Pablo Milanés with the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Awards; while Federico Britos, Humberto Gatica and Chelique Sarabia were honored with the Trustees Award.
The ceremony, attended by 400 invited guests, hosted by Gabriel Abaroa Jr. President/CEO of The Latin Recording Academy, was held at the KÀ Theatre at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino Wednesday morning. It was the 12th annual presentation of the Special Awards and as Manolo Díaz, Vice President of the Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation® and one of the presenters, noted "each event has had an emotional impact that remains unforgettable."
This year was no exception.
There were many highlights and special, moving moments.
Spanish singers Ana Belén and Víctor Manuel, longtime partners in music and in life, were the first to receive the Lifetime Achievement Awards, which are presented by vote of The Latin Recording Academy's Board of Trustees to "performers who have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording during their careers."
Accepting the award, Victor Manuel spoke of "the happiness you give us. But this is like giving a prize to a child for eating ice cream. I've been eating ice cream for 50 years and now to top that, this recognition." Belén focused on the award being a recognition to excellence. "Excellence should be a duty, an obligation, " she said."And even if it´s something utopian, I want to keep searching for it. I don´t believe I´ve reached my excellence -- but I´ve tricked you."
Dominican singer Angela Carrasco, who went from her success as Mary Magdalene in the Spanish adaptation of "Jesus Christ Superstar" to a global Latin music star, took time to thank the audience and the songwriters and composers, asking for an applause for Camilo Sesto, her mentor and producer. "Why do you give me an award? I do it with all my love. I love it."
Speaking in Portuguese, Brazilian singer/songwriter and guitarist Djavan, one of the great exponents of the MPB (the Portuguese acronym for Brazilian Popular Music),noted that he accepted the award as a recognition to 40 years of work. "An entire life dedicated to music... Every time I speak with God is not to ask for anything but to give thanks."
Sporting his trademark hat and scarf, Argentine saxophonist Leandro " Gato" Barbieri, who will celebrate his 83rd birthday next week, on Nov 28, spoke of his beginnings as a professional musician, when he was 17 years old. "I've played 62 years, made 45 recordings and always, always with the idea of always looking something new, but without destroying what came before."
This was the type of event in which even stars become music fans again, childlike in their enthusiasm and obvious pleasure. That was in display as Latin GRAMMY winner, Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and member of the Latin Recording Academy Board of Trustees Johnny Ventura and salsa superstar Victor Manuelle introduced pianist Rafael Ithier, founder and director of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, a living institutions of Afro-Caribbean music. Ithier shared the award with the members of the group, present and past, "they deserve this award as much as me. This [award] is an encouragement to continue. Our life is very self-sacrificing but one receives this kind of recognition, it makes it all worthy."
Cuban singer/songwriter Pablo Milanés, a leading figure in Nueva Trova movement, was brief as he dedicated the award to his family and also the Cuban people "the best audience I have," and also to the people who listens and respect my work."
Venezuelan renaissance man Chelique Sarabia was the first of the three honored with the Trustees Award, which is presented by vote of The Latin Recording Academy's Board of Trustees "to individuals who have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording during their careers." He noted that for Venezuelans, his receiving this Latin GRAMMY was "like the Nobel [Prize]" and noted he retired 40 years ago and yet the Latin GRAMMYs, only in its 16th edition, "has a memory." And alluded to the political situation as he said his prize was just "a preamble to the best news we'll have Dec. 6."
Uruguayan violinist Federico Britos not only thanked his teachers and artists such as Barbieri "who we admired so much from Uruguay" but also took time to put the award in context. "It's a recognition to the music, to a life in music. ... All creators, musicians, painters, filmmakers, writers ... all we collaborate to give this world, so complicated, moments like these, of peace and happiness through music."
Singer Celine Dion was a surprise, and eloquent, emotional presenter of the award to Chilean producer and engineer Humberto Gatica. She departed from script ("I'm a little bit of a talker," she said) to praise Gatica, the engineer of her first English language recording. "Humberto has been singing with me all these years."
Gatica, who arrived o the United States in 1968, recalled his beginnings, "I cleaned floors, made coffee, cleaned bathrooms," before going on to work with a who's who of pop music, from Alejandro Sanz, Gloria Estefan and Shakira to Michael Jackson, Dion and Madonna. Gatica's quintessential American story played as a perfect closing for an emotion filled event, rich with history and gratitude.