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Some island entertainers back boycott of CBS

By John Berger

LAST UPDATED: 12:02 a.m. HST, Jul 2, 2011

A call for a boycott of the Grammy Awards' telecast partner, CBS, by a coalition of musicians protesting the Recording Academy's decision to drop 31 categories, including Hawaiian music album, brought a mixed reaction in Hawaii on Thursday.

The controversy was triggered when the academy announced in April that it was cutting the number of award categories to 78 from 109, eliminating entirely specific genres. For example, Hawaiian music was lumped into the same "regional roots" music category as Native American, Cajun, zydeco and polka.

The changes have drawn complaints from the likes of Herbie Hancock, Paul Simon and Bill Cosby. They also have gotten attention from groups like the National Institute of Latino Policy, which issued a statement Thursday supporting the coalition, led by Grammy-nominated Latin jazz musician Bobby Sanabria.

Sanabria has claimed the reductions unfairly target ethnic music and called the academy's decision racist.

Hawaiian slack-key master Dennis Kamakahi, a two-time finalist in the best Hawaiian music album category and recipient of the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, said he supports Sanabria's campaign.

"I fully agree that the decision made of the board of directors of (the Recording Academy) borders on racism," Kamakahi said Thursday, responding by email from Keola Beamer's Aloha Music Camp in Kailua-Kona. "I am in full support of my fellow (Recording Academy) members who are behind the call of reinstatement of the categories that were cut. The movement in growing, and many key musicians in the industry are supporting us, including Bonnie Raitt, who joined us recently."

Lea Uehara, Hoku Award-winning record producer and longtime member of the board of governors of the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts, took a neutral position.

"Even without (the Hawaiian music category), people can submit albums in the (new) category and possibly win the category," she said.

Uehara said she "felt kind of bad" that the separate category was eliminated, "but a lot of (the cause) was that nobody was supporting it. Fewer and fewer of our artists and record labels were supporting it."

The Recording Academy told The Associated Press that while it respected the coalition's right to disagree, it rejected its allegations.

"The Recording Academy's board of trustees and its committees — made up of elected, qualified voting members from The Academy's 12 chapter cities around the country and a broad spectrum of music makers — spent two years researching and ultimately making the decision to restructure the Grammy Awards categories for reasons that had everything to do with recognizing excellence in music and the integrity of our awards and nothing to do with ethnicity or race," said a statement from the organization.

CBS is scheduled to broadcast the Grammys in February from Los Angeles. The network declined to comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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