Three years ago, Juanes was a relative unknown and wondering whether his decision to move to Los Angeles and start a solo career was a good idea.
On Wednesday, the Colombian singer-songwriter was showered with five Latin Grammys, including album of the year for “Un Dia Normal” (A Normal Day) and record and song of the year for “Es Por Ti” (It’s For You).
“I never thought that this was going to happen to me,” said Juanes, whose album “Un Dia Normal” spent a record 65 weeks on the Billboard Latin charts. “Three years ago I was lost completely in Los Angeles.”
Juanes had already won four Latin Grammys prior to Wednesday’s ceremony and won all of the awards he was nominated for. He also won best rock solo album and best rock song for “Mala Gente.”
Juanes, wearing a black T-shirt that read, “Se Habla Espanol,” said he hoped his win would help people look at his homeland in a new light.
“I know a lot of times, people have a bad image of my country,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important for me to be here, to represent the other side of Colombia.”
After the ceremony, backstage, he said: “This is the most impressive day in my life.”
While Juanes was the evening’s big winner, the show’s most rousing moment came at the start of the show. Celia Cruz, who just a year ago kicked off the Latin Grammys with an electrifying performance, was given a posthumous tribute with a medley of her some of her biggest hits.
“Azucar!” – Cruz’s trademark rallying cry – was the final shout of the tribute, performed by Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan, India and others. The Queen of Salsa, who won an award at the Latin Grammys last year, died of a brain tumor in July.
Cruz’s husband, trumpeter Pedro Knight, was watching from the audience. Veteran Venezuelan salsa singer Oscar D’Leon showed fans he has recovered from the multiple heart attacks he suffered earlier this year by singing on the tribute.
The ceremony included energetic performances from Thalia, Bacilos and Molotov, but also incorporated non-Latin artists; Juanes performed with the hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas, while Brazilian singer Alexandre Pires sang with “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson.
The fusion of American and Latin American pop cultures also included presenters such as singer Natalie Cole, actors Jessia Alba and Adam Rodriguez, and even tennis champion Venus Williams, who towered over Latin Grammy nominee Natalia Lafourcade while presenting an award.
Although they didn’t obtain visas to attend the show, the Cuban acts Orishas and Ibrahim Ferrer were honored in the pre-ceremony. Orishas, socially conscious rappers, won for best hip-hop album, and Ferrer, best known as a member of Buena Vista Social Club, won for best traditional tropical album.
Twelve Cuban acts – including pianist Chucho Valdes and the popular group Los Van Van – had been nominated for the awards. None was granted a visa in time to attend.
A pregnant Olga Tanon screamed onstage when she won best pop vocal album by a female for “Sobrevivir.” It was her second Latin Grammy.
“My English is very bad, for this reason I have to talk in Spanish,” she said apologetically before giving her acceptance speech in Spanish.
Backstage, Tanon said: “I swear I was suprised. Anything could have happened. The competition was very strong but I always have faith. I’m super happy.”
Gustavo Santaolalla, who produced Juanes’ record breaking album, won three times; two awards for record and album of the year and another award for arranging and producing “Bajofondo Tango Club,” the best pop instrumental album.
Other winners included Spanish singer David Bisbal, who burst on the scene with his album “Corazon Latino” after winning the Spanish equivalent of the television show “American Idol.” He won for best new artists in a minor upset over Lafourcade.
Claiming two awards was composer-arranger Paquito D’Rivera, for best classical and best Latin jazz albums, and Mexican Joan Sebastian, for best regional Mexican song and best banda album.
Bebu Silvetti, the early disco pioneer who worked in various genres, was honored posthumously as producer of the year. Silvetti, 59, died in July of complications from pneumonia. Veteran musician Willie Colon accepted the award for Silvetti.