Latin music has become so hot that the Grammy Awards aren't big enough to contain it.

Although the music-industry awards ceremony has added a host of Latin music categories, officials with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences plan a separate Latin Grammys ceremony this September in Los Angeles.

"We are introducing the Latin music market and genre through Ricky (Martin), Jennifer (Lopez), Marc (Anthony) and Enrique (Iglesias). They've got a nice sound and great faces. It's very accessible," said Mauricio Abaroa, executive director of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which was launched by NARAS in 1997 to organize the Latin Grammys.

The new awards show springs from the growing popularity of crossover artists who once performed only in Spanish-language recordings, such as Martin and Iglesias, and from the interest in Latin music categories by NARAS members.

"LARAS is the consequence of the way that the Latin categories of the regular awards have developed," Abaroa said.

Why choose L.A.?

That Los Angeles beat out Miami as the host city of the Latin Grammys was something of a surprise among music insiders, because Miami is considered the center of the Latin music industry. But LARAS officials point out that L.A. boasts the second-highest Latino population after Mexico City and Miami's staunch anti-Castro stance would have discouraged some Cuban musicians from participating.

"Los Angeles is much more open and has a much wider variety of styles to attract people here," said Gustavo Santaolalla, founder of Surco, a "rock en Espanol" label and joint venture with Universal Music Group. "Los Angeles is fundamental."

Though no venue has been selected, NARAS officials said the Latin Grammys will require an arena setting to accommodate about 15,000 attendees, including the general public. Attendance at the Latin awards show will beat out the crowd at the mainstream Grammys, expected to draw 12,000 people to Staples Center next week.

The L.A. market will remain essential as long as it continues to attract a large number of Latino immigrants. Latinos already comprise such a sizable portion of the local population that the two top-rated radio stations in the market both broadcast in Spanish.

"The immigration of Latinos into the U.S. is constant," said Andre Midani, president of Warner Music Latin America. "That obviously increases the market base for Latin products, because you have many more Latins living here each year. The market is growing in that sense, undoubtedly."

The first Latin Grammy Awards will include 40 categories, from record of the year to best Ranchero and Tejano, to seven Portugese-language categories. The show will be broadcast on CBS and on a yet-to-be-determined Spanish-language network.

Sizzling sales

All the attention given to Latino crossover artists like Martin and Lopez, marketed as sexy and smoldering, meant additional album sales last year for Latin musicians.

While most music genres last year saw modest, if any, increases in album sales, Latin artists sold more than 22 million albums in 1999, up from about 15.5 million in 1998, according to SoundScan, a music sales tracking firm. That percentage increase was the greatest of all genres, SoundScan data shows.

Nuevo sex symbol Ricky Martin's self-titled album ranked as the No. 3 album in 1999, with nearly 6 million units sold. Veteran Carlos Santana's "Supernatural" came in fifth, with about 4.7 million albums in 1999.

Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca" and Santana's "Smooth" were so successful that they're in the running at this year's Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, against the Backstreet Boys' "I Want it that Way," Cher's "Believe," and TLC's "No Scrubs."

Musicians nominated in the seven Grammy categories specifically devoted to Latin artists are lesser known across the United States, because their releases are mostly in Spanish.

The boom in Latin music is partially attributable to the current status of American rock. The alternative music that was so new in the early 1990s has become mainstream, and music executives are seeking new sounds.

"There's a lot of music in the States that has a recycled feel to it, a rehashed feel to it, and it seems the audience and the musicians and taste-makers are now listening to different sounds and different sources of music," Santaolalla said.

Industry experts are confident that the popularity of Latino artists is not just a passing phase.

"A fad could be the fact that Ricky Martin is number one," Santaolalla said. "It's just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much coming in the next years. I think we're going to witness a Latinization of the world, because it's going to be carried through the United States."

Abaroa said LARAS would be a driving force behind keeping Latin music in the limelight, by creating a powerful community through its members in the United States and Spanish-speaking countries. "We are on the radar and need to be always on the radar, not just for four or five years," Abaroa said. "That's a big responsibility."

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