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Calle 13, who are Eduardo Cabra Martinez a.k.a. Visitante (on the left) and Rene Perez Joglar a.k.a. Residente, pose with their Grammy Awards in Las Vegas Thursday night.
Calle 13, who are Eduardo Cabra Martinez a.k.a. Visitante (on the left) and Rene Perez Joglar a.k.a. Residente, pose with their Grammy Awards in Las Vegas Thursday night. Ethan Miller/Getty Images
During the Latin Grammy Awards show that aired on Univison Thursday night, Puerto Rican rap duo Calle 13 was the big winner. Not only did they deliver a breathtaking performance of their celebrated song "Latinoamerica" along with acclaimed Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel and his orchestra, they won a record-breaking nine Latin Grammys. It was an exclamation point on what so far has been a spectacular career for the group. They are the most musically innovative, rebellious and politically vocal artists in Latin music today, and that's garnered them a cult following beyond Spanish-speaking audiences.
Throughout their various acceptance speeches last night the duo made mention of the current battles for free and accessible education across Latin America. But at the very end of the show, as they accepted the prize for Album Of The Year, frontman Rene "Residente" Perez said something that was met with a handful of awkward claps: "No a la payola" or "Say no to payola."
Perez repeated himself one or two times like a mantra before cameras cut to perplexed looking hosts Lucero and Cristián de la Fuente, who began speaking before Perez's mic was cut.
I asked Univision, the Spanish language broadcaster with the largest audience in the U.S., to tell me why it ended its broadcast when it did. A spokesperson for the company says, "The show was running over time and when we believed the acceptance remarks were complete, we cut to the hosts."
Back in 2010 Univision agreed to pay $1 million to resolve criminal and administrative cases stemming from allegations that between 2002 and 2006 its radio stations and employees accepted money to give more airplay to certain artists on the company's now defunct record label, Univision Music Group — violating FCC rules. Before Univision's settlement, another $1 million in fines were slammed on Fonovisa Records in the late '90s.
In 2002 Jordan Levin, a Miami Herald arts and entertainment reporter, wrote about payola in the Latin music industry. I spoke to Levin the morning after the Latin Grammys on the phone, and she told me that in the course of reporting her piece she found that payola was "completely rampant. Almost nothing got on the air without payola, and payola really determined what was on the radio and to a great degree made and broke music stars." She spoke to one of the major Latin label presidents (she would not disclose his name), who claimed he was privy to negotiations among the five biggest Latin labels in the U.S. to stop practicing payola, which eventually failed.
So called "radio promoters" she interviewed noted that payola transactions often run in the tens of thousands of dollars. "One reason is that the Latin music industry in the U.S. has been and still is not as developed and not as corporate as the mainstream English language music industry. So when it comes to radio it was much more based on personal relationships," says Levin. "It came much more from an old school — corrupt but old school system — that used to be prevalent in American radio."
Levin feels that the lack of artistic diversity in the Latin Grammys is a direct reflection of a system riddled with payola. "Most of the artists nominated, and most of the artists who perform are the same, year after year after year, and what payola tends to do is keep anybody new, anything different, anything fresh from getting out there," she says. "Because the Latin radio market is much smaller compared to mainstream markets — much more insular and much more conservative — payola makes a bad situation worse."