"Whatever happens, we feel we already won," says Palo! pianist Steve Roitstein from Las Vegas as he waits to find out whether his Miami Afro-Cuban funk five-piece's record Palo! Live will win the 2014 Latin Grammy for Best Contemporary Tropical Album.
"Submitting the album was daunting. Not the process, which the Latin Grammys made easy, but knowing that hundreds of artists from 25, 26 countries are entering their work for only five nominations."
Roitstein was not expecting the news when the nominations were announced in September.
"I was in my bed in Miami when our singer [Leslie Cartaya] called me. She had been through this whole thing the year before when she was nominated for Best New Artist. She woke up early and found out the news."
For the two months since that early morning, the band has been in a state of total awe. In their 12 years together, there was no sense that this independent band had a shot at an award like the Latin Grammy, which is dominated by acts on major labels. They had put out records before, but it was their live gigs that always brought out the best of their jazzed-up, nontraditional salsa arrangements.
"People would see us live," Roitstein says, "and tended to be more enthusiastic about our live show than our records."
And so Palo! Live was born. In August 2013 at the now-defunct Miami venue PAX, the band took the stage in front of a packed crowd.
"There were 600, 700 people. And 15 minutes into the show, the air conditioning broke," Roitstein recalls. "If you see the videos, you can see the crowd fanning themselves. I think the recording really captured us."
The members of the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences agreed, nominating them alongside Julio Cesar, Jorge Luis Chacin, Prince Royce, and one of Roitstein's personal favorites, Carlos Vives.
The band is continuing to write new material, some of it based off onstage improvisations. It tentatively plans to have a new album out in 2015 with guest artists Roitstein was excited about but not ready to announce.
The day after Thanksgiving, Palo! will be playing at Homefield Sports Bar, with once-a-month appearances at Ball & Chain and Saturday-night shows at Yuca on Lincoln Road still being finalized. Whether these shows will serve as a victory parade will be discovered tonight at the Latin Grammys.
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"We've been celebrating since we were nominated. This reinforced that little obstacles in our lives weren't worth worrying about," says the ecstatic Roitstein. "The tricky part has been using this good news to reach out to more people as an independent band."
The 15th Annual Latin Grammys Awards. Thursday, November 20. Broadcasting at 8 p.m. on Univision.
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