Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Grammy meeting tackles concerns

By John Berger


The simmering controversy over the elimination of 31 Grammy Award categories — including best Hawaiian music album — was addressed Monday night at "Grammy Awards 101," a public meeting hosted by members of the Recording Academy Pacific Northwest and Los Angeles chapters at the Outrigger Reef Hotel on the Beach.

The meeting attracted several dozen music industry professionals. The crowd included Grammy award winners Charles Michael Brotman and Tia Carrere and also Mountain Apple Co. President Lea Bernstein.

Academy President and Chief Executive Officer Neil Portnow and Bill Freimuth, vice president/awards, defended the decision to cut the number of award categories to 78 from 109.

Freimuth also explained the procedures used to determine eligibility for the awards program.

"It becomes complicated in order for it to become more fair," he said. "We never reach out. We are completely passive."

Lack of clarity in the selection process had been a perennial complaint among the Hawaiian musicians who submitted albums in the best Hawaiian music album category. Specific complaints have included questions about how eligibility for the category was determined and who the people were who decided which Hawaiian albums were included.

Responding to a question about the criteria, Freimuth said that in the past, Hawaiian albums had to have either 51 percent Hawaiian language or Hawaiian instruments, but under the new system, "there will be more latitude to define the music."

He also said that the academy has taken recommendations from members of the Hawaiian music community for people qualified to be members of the regional roots music screening committee.

In response to a question from state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria about how Hawaiian music "might regain its place in the sun," Portnow said "join (the academy), submit and vote."

The controversy began in April when Portnow announced what was described as a "restructuring" of the awards. Some observers agreed with Portnow that no musical genres were being excluded from the program and that reducing the number of categories would make the awards more competitive. Others felt that the downsizing had been made primarily at the expense of categories for the music of racial and ethnic minorities. For instance, the separate categories for Hawaiian, Native American and Cajun/Zydeco music were replaced by a single regional roots music category that also includes polka.

The issue became more contentious last month when Bobby Sanabria, a Grammy-nominated Latin-jazz musician and leader of a coalition protesting the cuts, called for a boycott of the Grammys' telecast partner, CBS, and its advertisers and announced that the coalition had hired an attorney to explore possible legal action. Sanabria has said that the cuts unfairly targeted ethnic music, and described the reductions as racist.

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