There are way more Grammys than you ever seem to hear about—“Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package,” for instance—so you can certainly be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing beyond an Adele-Beyoncé showdown over Song of the Year.
If you’re frequenting Afropop, however, you’ve probably got more of a stake in those lesser-known categories. Some of our long-time friends are back competing for “Best World Music Album,” and elsewhere. And while CBS may not show your favorite artists accepting their prizes on Feb. 12, at least you’ll know to send them a congratulatory tweet.
Best World Music Album
This is the big one, although, frustratingly, it’s also one of the most predictable. Last year, Gilberto Gil, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Anoushka Shankar were all nominated, losing out to fellow perennial contender Angélique Kidjo. Of course we’re longtime boosters of all those guys and see them every chance we get, so maybe it’s forgivable that Shankar, Gil and our favorite South African a cappella group are back again this year. Celtic Woman is admittedly outside of our expertise but it’s safe to say that whoever wins will be winning for a whole, career-spanning body of work.
1. Destiny by Celtic Woman
2. Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers by Ladysmith Black Mambazo
3. Sing Me Home by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
4. Land of Gold by Anoushka Shankar
5. Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música: Multishow Live by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil
Best Latin Jazz Album
This category is full of New Yorkers and people we admire. Pedrito Martinez‘s timbales are all over that Madera Latino record, and Brian Lynch is just three years removed from winning a Grammy with Eddie Palmieri. Chucho Valdés, son of Bebo, also has five Grammys already. Still, Brazil’s Trio Da Paz could pull of an upset—their record’s a bit cooler than competition, but no less impressive for it.
1. Entre Colegas by Andy González
2. Madera Latino: A Latin Jazz Perspective on the Music of Woody Shaw by Brian Lynch and Various Artists
3. Canto América by Michael Spiro/Wayne Wallace
4. 30 by Trio Da Paz
5. Tribute to Irakere: Live in Marciac by Chucho Valdés
Best Reggae Album
Is it a tribute to the reggae community’s collaborative nature that almost all of these artists have appeared on each others’ records, or is it an indictment of the Grammys’ selection process that their net isn’t cast wide enough? The smart money is always on the big name, in this case Ziggy Marley. But SOJA’s last record had Damien Marley on it, so maybe they cancel each other out. In any case, don’t sleep on J Boog, whose record was really great and even featured a guest spot by Stephen (you guessed it) Marley.
1. Sly & Robbie Presents… Reggae For Her by Devin Di Dakta and J.L
2. Rose Petals by J Boog
3. Ziggy Marley by Ziggy Marley
4. Everlasting by Raging Fyah
5. Falling Into Place by Rebelution
6. SOJA: Live In Virginia by SOJA
Best Contemporary Blues Album
This category disappeared in 2012, and is now back. In case you don’t remember, contemporary blues “may employ non-traditional blues rhythms such as funk, hip-hop, reggae, and rock, or…feature contemporary techniques such as synthesizers or loops.” Fantastic Negrito‘s album, which is replete with loops and samples, is just so good.
1. The Last Days of Oakland by Fantastic Negrito
2. Love Wins Again by Janiva Magness
3. Bloodline by Kenny Neal
4. Give It Back to You by The Record Company
5. Everybody Wants A Piece by Joe Louis Walker
Best Traditional Blues Album
Bobby Rush is having a bit of a comeback after a terrible bus crash a few years back. Despite this being the “traditional blues album” category, his record—which features both Joe Bonamassa and Vasti Jackson— is pretty funky, but then that’s the chittlin blues for you. These categories were merged because people didn’t know where “traditional blues” stopped and “contemporary blues” began.
1. Can’t Shake This Feeling by Lurrie Bell
2. Live at the Greek Theatre by Joe Bonamassa
3. Blues and Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook: Volumes I & II) by Luther Dickinson
4. The Soul of Jimmie Rodgers by Vasti Jackson
5. Porcupine Meat by Bobby Rush
Best Tropical Latin Album
La Sonora Santanera’s album is sweet and playful and is perhaps just mellow enough to entice Grammy voters, but why would you ever bet against Los Van Van? Actually, now’s a good time to advise you not to use this guide for gambling purposes.
1. Conexión by Fonseca
2. La Fantasia Homenaje A Juan Formell by Formell Y Los Van Van
3. 35 Aniversario by Grupo Niche
4. La Sonora Santanera en Su 60 Aniversario by La Sonora Santanera
5. Donde Están? by Jose Lugo and Guasábara Combo