Naras Oblivious To The Obvious
by John Santos – 2/18/12
The epic and historical blunder committed last April by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was etched into the archives last week by the conspicuous absence of the 31 categories they pulled from Grammy consideration, and the musically vacuous telecast they promoted (at $800,000 per 30 second commercial) as the best that American music has to offer. We hope that sooner than later, NARAS will understand that pretending to not know what all the fuss is about, infinite procrastination, and two tons of lip service are not solutions to their unethical practices and offensive actions. They obviously have no idea that undermining and eliminating a huge portion of the most culturally diverse and creative music in our country is a form of violence against communities that historically have had to deal with this kind of mentality for much too long.
Thanks to the ill-advised and totally disrespectful suggestions of a handful of uninformed individuals, hundreds of thousands of musicians, music industry workers of all kinds, students, teachers, and fans of the 31 eliminated categories have been negatively affected. This is far from acceptable. It would have been fairly simple for NARAS to avoid this huge problem had they handled the delicate prospect of eliminating categories in an ethical and fair manner, as opposed to the secret committee of trustees who made the short sighted recommendations. It’s still a pretty easy fix if that was their intention. But they are unwilling to officially admit their mistake and saving face has become their priority. Not to mention they are so beholding to the entities that provide the big money for them, making CEO Neil Portnow’s 1.4 million dollar yearly salary possible among other extravagances.
If as they claim, they were concerned about relatively low numbers of entries in certain categories, they clearly should have consulted members and non-members from within the threatened categories and the communities they represent. NARAS easily could have informed the local governors, chapters and members that decisions of such major impact were being considered, in order to get valuable input and suggestions from those for whom they supposedly advocate.
Two of the most disturbing aspects of this travesty are 1.) NARAS announced changes in policy regarding minimum entries required to have a category after dropping categories that did not meet the new requirements, and 2.) They did so in April of 2011, seven months after the beginning of the eligibility year. Those actions were either totally thoughtless, or chillingly calculated, as they dealt a severe blow to all the musicians and independent labels in the eliminated categories that released projects after September 30th, 2010, or planned to release projects through the 2011 eligibility year, and they undermined the chances of reversing the decision.
Over 23,000 signatures, most of which were gathered nationally in the last few days before the February 12, 2012 CBS telecast, were dropped off at the NARAS headquarters in Los Angeles on Thursday, February 9, 2012 and the only comment NARAS president Neil Portnow could muster was “It seems they lack general support.” That bit of brilliance from the president of a non-profit organization that is supposed to honor excellence in American music and advocate for us, the membership. NARAS should lose that position and invest the 1.4 million every year into sensitivity training for administration and staff, and for outreach into the eliminated communities to truly enrich the organization and the Grammys.
This is ultimately a battle for the rights of youth as well as to honor our ancestors. It would be easy to say “Farm those mother-truckers – they’ve never had our backs and never had other intentions than extreme profits all along – why would I want to be associated with them at all?” But they are sending a terrible message to youth and to the world – that only the most commercial art is worth recognizing. They are aligning themselves with the worst aspects of our society, not only in that they have no tolerance, but they also have no idea what the terms diversity and mutual respect mean. As they slice off a huge chunk of non-commercial music and continue to dumb down the images and representations of music that the vast majority of Americans will see, they are applauded by the big music industry and most pop artists who through their silence on the issue are strongly complicit. Their killer capitalist instincts do not allow them to celebrate all American music of historical importance. They are on a mission to completely dominate the musical horizon, not only economically, but even in terms of recognition and honor.
This is a complex issue and it goes beyond questions of race. But neither can the racist implications of what has been done be swept under the rug as they have been traditionally. Racism is pervasive. It is firmly imbedded in the psyche of most Americans of all colors despite centuries of claims to the contrary. Most of us do not understand the subliminal power of internalized racism. Hiding racism behind profits is lesson #1 in the capitalism-gone-berzerk handbook. But the folks who perpetuate it are always in denial and actually think they are slick, not realizing that they are trying to hide an elephant behind a fire hydrant.
For example, Rap has got to be one of the industry’s worst nightmares. Ten or twelve years ago, LL Cool J was one of several Rappers who boycotted the Grammys for their lack of inclusion. They knocked the door down and firmly planted Rap and Hip Hop in the Grammys and in mainstream America. The only thing worse for the folks who tried to deny them would be if Latin Jazz, Native American, Blues, Instrumental Rock, Contemporary Jazz, R&B, World Music, Zydeco, Cajun, Hawaiian, Polka, and all the categories they recently deemed unworthy, continued cutting into the mega billions pie. The fact that greed trumps racism does not negate the existence of racism.
NARAS’ dastardly action is right in step with the greed that has so completely inundated and contaminated every aspect of our society. This type of thinking and movement to deny equal access is not new, but those who invent and benefit by it used to be concerned about their actions being clandestine, for fear of their obvious evil being exposed. Not any more – It’s been in our faces since George W was propped up as leader of the free world, with the inability to speak in complete sentences and the clear goal to grease the wheels for only the most right wing economic and military elements. Everything from war crimes to the boldfaced rip-off of our own citizens in every way imaginable from housing to healthcare, education and social security has been exposed with hardly a slap on the wrist handed to anyone. So it is not totally surprising that in this atmosphere, this decree by NARAS raises its ugly head with unmitigated support by the folks at the top of the economic ladder and those who have been brainwashed by that power machine.
They cannot be allowed to stomp on us like this and go unchallenged, as history shows clearly that they will not stop disrespecting us until we who defend equality and human rights stop them. Let it also be clear that we stand united with all the eliminated categories and with Herbie Hancock, Eddie Palmieri, Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, the Reverend Jess Jackson, Cornel West, Bill Cosby, Chick Corea, Stanley Clark, Pete Escovedo, Larry Vuckovich, Oscar Hernandez, Dr. John Calloway, Larry Harlow, David Amram, Wayne Wallace, Bobby Sanabria, Randall Kline, Clayton Leander, Bobby Matos, Ramon and Tony Banda, Rene Camacho, Professor Dartanyan Brown, Mark Levine, Dr. Ben Lapidus, Dr. Chris Washburne, Sandy Cressman, Gary Eisenberg, San Francisco Supervisors Eric Mars and John Avalos, the San Francisco Arts Commission, Presente.org, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the National Institute for Latino Policy, Democracy Now, Urban Music Presents, and so many other musical, academic and community leaders as well as with hundreds of thousands of musicians, fans, supporters and industry workers in opposing this disastrous decision by NARAS. We’ve met with them, written and re-written proposals at their request, and jumped through hoop after hoop and they’ve stonewalled us every time.
1000 thanks to all of you who have spread the word. Please continue to forward this urgent and viral movement to get NARAS moving once again, in the right direction. Check in regularly with GrammyWatch.org to keep abreast of what’s happening, as related stories are emerging daily. Keep writing to the NARAS brass at the addresses found on GrammyWatch.org. It is only the constant and growing public pressure and outcry that has gotten their attention and that of NARAS supporters. Know that everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end.
http://www.grammywatch.org for updates, addresses, and info, and please let Grammy broadcaster CBS know your thoughts directly with the link below, . . . .
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In solidarity . . . .
Five-time Grammy nominee, educator, composer, producer, percussionist, bandleader, US Artist Fontanals Fellow, 25 year NARAS member
“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” – Hunter S. Thompson