By Steve Terrell, of the Santa Fe New Mexican:
In what will undoubtedly be seen as a blow to American Indian musicians in New Mexico, the Recording Academy announced Wednesday that there will no longer be a Grammy Award for Native American music.
The move is part of a major consolidation of Grammy categories announced in Los Angeles. Instead of the 109 categories awarded this year, next year there will be only 78 categories.
“It ups the game in terms of what it takes to receive a Grammy and preserves the great esteem (in) which it’s held in the creative community, which is the most important element,” Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
“This is really disappointing,” said Harlan McKosato of Albuquerque in a telephone interview Wednesday. McKosato, who writes a column on Indian issues for The New Mexican but is best known for hosting the syndicated radio show Native America Calling, has served on the committee that screens entries for the Native American Grammy.
“The Native American category was always in peril,” McKosato said. A major problem was that sometimes there were barely enough entries in a year to qualify, he said. (The minimum was 25 albums.) Only “traditional” Native music was eligible, so Indian rock, blues or jazz bands didn’t qualify, McKosato said.
Also disappointed at the news was Claude Stephenson, the state folklorist and a member of the state Music Commission.
“We were trying to get them to create more categories,” Stephenson said.
The Native American music category was introduced to the Grammys in 2001. In the past 11 years, several albums by New Mexico artists and recordings at New Mexico events won the Grammy for best Native American recording.
Robert Mirabal of Taos Pueblo won in 2008 for his album Totemic Flute Chants. Black Eagle, a Jemez Pueblo drum group, won in 2004 for its album Flying Free. In 2001 and this year, the Native American Grammy went to various-artist albums recorded live at the annual Gathering of Nations PowWow in Albuquerque.
Albums by Native American musicians can still be nominated, but they would compete in a newly created category called “Regional Roots Music,” which also will include traditional Hawaiian and Cajun/zydeco albums — two other categories that were deleted.
Some of the other categories that will disappear are Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel, Traditional Gospel Album, Tejano, Norteño, Children’s Spoken Word, Chamber Music, Classical Crossover and Latin Jazz. There will no longer be separate categories for best male and female singers in pop, country or R&B.
“All categories will remain, they’ll just be found in different genres,” Portnow told the Los Angeles Times. “The message isn’t about cutting, it’s about changing the way we present the awards. We welcome all artists who make music in the Grammy process, it’s just going to look a little different.”
The Times said the changes “implicitly acknowledge a widespread complaint by industry observers and casual fans that the number of categories had become bloated and unwieldy.”