It was a killer opening, and one that set the tone for the rest of the two-hour show, which was televised live from Los Angeles' Staples Center on Wednesday night on KTVT-TV (Channel 11). The Puente homage was authentic â€“ from Ms. Cruz's typically spirited vocals to Mr. Martin's smooth-as-salsa hip movements.
With few exceptions â€“ we'll get to those in a minute â€“ the Latin Grammys represented the genre with class and respect. That was no small accomplishment considering the controversies surrounding the formation of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (LARAS) and the final nominees in 40 categories. Some members of the Latin music industry feared a separate awards show would ghettoize the genre. Others thought nominating recordings from Spain, Argentina and Brazil instead of just focusing on stateside Latin releases misrepresented the U.S. Latin sales market.
It's all pointless bickering now. Thankfully, the evening's winners were largely Latin artists who have not attempted or enjoyed a pop crossover. Christina Aguilera went home empty-handed, as did Mr. Martin. Only "Dimelo," the Spanish version of Marc Anthony's Anglo pop hit "I Need to Know," proved victorious.
Otherwise, the show's big winners were Carlos Santana and his Mexican buddies, rock en espaÃ±ol group ManÃ¡, Colombia's pop-rock siren Shakira, the Dominican Republic's merengue singer-songwriter Juan Luis Guerra and Latin pop idol Luis Miguel. A few more deserving victors were Mexican ranchera heartthrob Alejandro Fernandez (who beat out his father, the legendary Vicente Fernandez), Buena Vista Social Club vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, quirky Mexican rockers CafÃ© Tacuba and Ms. Cruz, who took home the salsa-recording Grammy for her album Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night of Salsa.
"Azucar!" exclaimed Ms. Cruz as soon as she reached the microphone. "This is really a surprise. You're going to give me a heart attack. This is a huge honor for me."
She dedicated the award to her guests on the album â€“ India, Johnny Pacheco and Mr. Puente, who she said "deserted us but I know he's here tonight."
Of the performers, Shakira was transfixing during "Ojos Asi," an atmospheric tune with Middle Eastern elements that came to life in a fiery production number complete with dancers, torches and plenty of hip-swiveling dancing from the newly blond singer.
Praise should also go to Santana and ManÃ¡ ("CorazÃ³n Espinado"), Carlos Vives ("Fruta Fresca"), Spanish flamenco guitarist Tomatito, Brazilian folk singer Djavan and Ms. Estefan's lavish take on "No Me Dejes de Querer."
However, the broadcast did have two bombs. First was the ballyhooed collaboration between teen pop group 'N Sync and Latin boy band Son by Four. The former crooned "Ya Te Voy a Amar," a Spanish translation of the ballad "This I Promise You." The latter offered the ballad version of "A Puro Dolor." Both were tepid, lame examples of mainstream Anglo and Latin pop trying to converge.
Then there was Ms. Aguilera, who oversang the Latin standard "Contigo en la Distancia" and "Genio Atrapado," the Spanish version of "Genie in a Bottle." Forget her ridiculous red outfit; it's those Mariah Carey vocal runs that would give anybody â€“ no matter what nationality â€“ a headache.