LAS VEGAS – Despacito, the viral dance hit that swept past borders, won big Thursday (Nov 17) at the Latin Grammys where singer Luis Fonsi announced a new frontier for the song – the Chinese-speaking world.
Despacito won four awards including Record of the Year and Song of the Year, which recognises writing, in the year’s biggest night for Spanish- and Portuguese-language music.
The infectious reggaeton tune, which Fonsi sings with a rap assist from fellow Puerto Rican Daddy Yankee, was already a global hit when a remix featuring Justin Bieber brought it into the US mainstream.
Despacito became the most-watched video ever on YouTube and tied for most weeks on number one of the US singles chart – a feat all the more impressive considering how few non-English songs fare well in the world’s largest music market.
“It’s been a beautiful year. Twelve or 11 months of hard work representing our language in the entire world and enjoying a song that, thanks to Latin audiences and many beyond, has become so influential and has united the entire world and broken language barriers,” Fonsi told reporters at the gala in Las Vegas.
Fonsi is not done with Despacito. He announced he will launch a new version in two weeks with Singaporean singer and producer JJ Lin, a star in Mandarin-language pop.
“I sang a little bit in Mandarin. The song has become a worldwide phenomenon and singing it in Mandarin is an honour,” said Fonsi, who will tour Asia next year.
RIFT WITH DADDY YANKEE?
After working with Bieber, Fonsi has a collaboration ready with another North American star – Echame La Culpa (Blame Me), a new song that comes out Friday featuring Demi Lovato.
Fonsi described Despacito as an “ode to Puerto Rico” – ravaged in September by Hurricane Maria – and thanked Daddy Yankee, who was noticeably absent from the Latin Grammys.
Daddy Yankee recently told Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia that he no longer wanted to perform Despacito, explaining, “Songs have their moment and they have to evolve.”
Fonsi denied any rift, saying of both Daddy Yankee and Bieber: “They are my brothers and without them I would not have achieved this.”
Panamanian singer Erika Ender, a co-writer of Despacito, found a more political meaning to the song which triumphed in the United States just after Donald Trump won the US presidential election after campaigning to get tough against immigration.
“This is a song that can break any type of barriers or walls,” she said, in a clear allusion to Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Another Panamanian, salsa legend Ruben Blades, took home the night’s biggest prize, Album of the Year, with Salsa Big band, recorded with his compatriot Roberto Delgado.
Puerto Rican rapper Residente of Calle 13 fame won Best Urban Album for his ambitious self-titled work, in which he undergoes a DNA test and records with musicians in each country in which he traces ancestry.
The album takes him as far afield as incorporating guitar from Burkina Faso and opera from Beijing and features a guest appearance by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda who turns out to be a distant cousin.
Residente made a plea to a world awash in social media: “Art isn’t about numbers.”
“Stop posting about your number of followers and number of views and start talking about music,” he said.
Vicente Garcia, the Dominican singer who straddles bachata and reggae, won in three categories including Best New Artist.
Veteran Spanish songwriter Alejandro Sanz was feted Wednesday as the Latin Grammys’ Person of the Year and, accepting the trophy Thursday, dedicated the lifetime honour to “these guys who’ve been living in this country for many years and still have illegal status – the Dreamers.”
He was referring to the 700,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and had been protected so long as they stayed out of trouble – until Trump in September set the stage to expel them.
“Dreamers!” Sanz shouted repeatedly as he performed a medley of his songs, young people rushing on stage to join him in an emotional embrace.