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Cuban Protest Anthem, Salsa King Blades Reign Over Latin Grammys

Dani Davis

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The anthem of this summer’s protests in Cuba cleaned up at the Latin Grammys Thursday, winning prizes including the coveted best song, as the gala’s Person of the Year Ruben Blades won best album.

The 22nd edition of the awards show celebrating hits from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking worlds returned to an in-person ceremony in Las Vegas for the 2021 show, complete with electrifying performances and impressive outfits.

Puerto Rican singer Bad Bunny performs during the 22nd Annual Latin Grammy awards at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas Photo: AFP / Valerie MACON

The 73-year-old Blades, a Panamanian innovator of salsa and swing, was heralded as 2021’s Person of the Year which celebrates musical contributions as well as activism, before snagging the prestigious Album of the Year and Best Salsa Album for “SALSWING!”

The most-nominated artist of the ceremony Camilo won four awards out of 10 nominations. The eccentric Colombian artist also got the audience dancing during a barefoot performance of the cumbia-infused “Vida de Rico” — which won awards including best pop song — and the champeta-pop song “KESI.”

Randy Malcom and Alexander Delgado of Gente de Zona, Yotuel, Descemer Bueno and El Funky won two Latin Grammys for their protest song "Patria Y Vida Randy Malcom and Alexander Delgado of Gente de Zona, Yotuel, Descemer Bueno and El Funky won two Latin Grammys for their protest song “Patria Y Vida” Photo: AFP / Valerie MACON

Genre-busting Spanish rapper C. Tangana, who nabbed three prizes Thursday, also took the stage in an elaborate show of his hit “Ingobernable,” sitting at a table decked out with fruits and wine in a flamenco-inflected staging that also featured last year’s big Latin Grammy winner Natalia Lafourcade.

Chilean singer Mon Laferte — who won for best singer-songwriter album — as usual stunned on the red carpet in a baby bump-baring striped skirt suit before giving a stirring performance in another gown that exposed her pregnant belly, this time embroidered with vaginas and uteruses.

Chilean singer Mon Laferte (R) and Mexican singer-songwriter Gloria Trevi (L) perform at the Latin Grammys in Las Vegas Chilean singer Mon Laferte (R) and Mexican singer-songwriter Gloria Trevi (L) perform at the Latin Grammys in Las Vegas Photo: AFP / Valerie MACON

The hit “Patria Y Vida” (Homeland and Life) snagged the gramaphone for top song and best urban song, after soundtracking the wave of protests that shook Cuba in July.

The hit’s title plays on one of the Cuban revolution’s iconic slogans “Patria O Muerte” — Homeland or Death — which Fidel Castro would often close his speeches with.

The most-nominated artist of the ceremony Camilo won four awards out of 10 nominations The most-nominated artist of the ceremony Camilo won four awards out of 10 nominations Photo: AFP / Valerie MACON

“This is for my country, for freedom of expression, for the freedom of Cubans,” said Descemer Bueno in accepting the award for the smash that’s notched more than 9 million views on YouTube.

Along with Bueno the song’s artists include Yotuel, Gente De Zona, El Funky and Maykel Osorbo, who has been imprisoned since May 2021.

US singer Christina Aguilera (C) and Becky G (R) perform during the 22nd Annual Latin Grammy awards in Las Vegas US singer Christina Aguilera (C) and Becky G (R) perform during the 22nd Annual Latin Grammy awards in Las Vegas Photo: AFP / Valerie MACON

The 23-year-old Colombian artist Juliana Velasquez won the coveted Best New Artist award, as Karol G won best reggaeton performance for “Bichota.”

Puerto Rican reggaeton star Ozuna went home empty-handed but not without sporting an iridescent bomber jacket to give a dramatic performance of “Del Mar” and “Senor Juez.”

Panamanian singer Ruben Blades, this year's Person of the Year, also won the Latin Grammy's coveted best album award Panamanian singer Ruben Blades, this year’s Person of the Year, also won the Latin Grammy’s coveted best album award Photo: AFP / Valerie MACON

And Latin trap superstar Bad Bunny won best urban music album before closing out the night’s festivities in a shower of fire during his performance of “Maldita Pobreza.”

Christina Aguilera returned to the Latin Grammys stage after winning her first Latin Grammy prize in 2001 for “Mi Reflejo,” a record of Spanish-language covers of her English-language hits.

The artist was born in New York City to an Ecuadoran-American family but did not grow up speaking Spanish.

But on Thursday night she hit the stage in a lace corseted body suit for a Latina-rich performing of “Pa Mis Muchachas” with fellow stars Becky G, Nathy Peluso and Nicki Nicole, also offering a live debut of her song “Somos Nada.”

Conspicuously absent from the gala was the Colombian superstar J. Balvin, who boycotted the ceremony after arguing that it did not do enough to honor the explosive popularity of reggaeton.

The issue has long been a flashpoint at the Latin Grammys but this year’s comments from J Balvin drew more eyerolls than support, including from fellow artists who cast Balvin as salty rather than on point.

The Latin Recording Academy’s head Manuel Abud opened the ceremony’s pre-show — during which the vast majority of the day’s 53 prizes are doled out ahead of the televised portion — with comments honoring Marilia Mendonca, who died in a plane crash on November 5 at 26 years old.

The “Queen of Sertanejo” — one of Brazil’s most popular styles, which comes from the country’s rural backlands — was a massively popular revolutionary of the genre oft dominated by men.

Abud offered “solidarity with the Brazilian community over the tragic loss of Marilia Mendonca.”

“I propose to everyone to dedicate this ceremony to the memory of Marilia and her musical legacy.”


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Kazakh President Fires Rare Criticism At Predecessor After Unrest

Dani Davis

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Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued rare criticism of his long-ruling predecessor Tuesday, and said he expected Russian-led forces to leave the troubled Central Asian country in the next 10 days.

The oil-rich country’s descent into chaos has laid bare infighting at the top of a government once dominated by Tokayev’s mentor, 81-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The older man retains the constitutional status of “Leader of the Nation” despite stepping down from the presidency in 2019.

Addressing lawmakers in a video conference broadcast live, Tokayev fired an eyebrow-raising broadside at Nazarbayev as the post-Soviet country reels from unprecedented violence that began with peaceful protests over an energy price hike.

Tokayev, 68, said Nazarbayev’s rule had created “a layer of wealthy people, even by international standards”.

Dozens died in the unrest and 10,000 people have been arrested Photo: AFP / Alexandr BOGDANOV

“The time has come to pay tribute to the people of Kazakhstan and help them on a systematic and regular basis,” Tokayev added, noting that “very profitable companies” would be asked to pay money into a state fund.

“The current system is oriented towards major structures and is based on the principle: ‘everything for friends and laws for everyone else’,” he said.

Both Kazakhstan and Russia have framed last week’s unrest that left dozens dead and almost 10,000 people arrested as a coup attempt assisted by foreign “terrorists”, but have provided little supporting evidence.

Tokayev blamed his predecessor for creating a rich elite Tokayev blamed his predecessor for creating a rich elite Photo: SPUTNIK via AFP / Yevgeny BIYATOV

Following a request from career diplomat Tokayev, the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) deployed troops to bring about order and shore up the authorities.

On Tuesday, Tokayev announced “a phased withdrawal” would begin in two days and take “no more than 10 days”.

“The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed,” he said.

The CSTO mission of more than 2,000 troops was deployed at the peak of the crisis, after armed clashes between government opponents and security forces and a looting spree trashed parts of the largest city Almaty.

The decision was a first for the CSTO, often touted by Moscow as a NATO equivalent but previously reluctant to interfere in unrest in Central Asia, a region with long historical ties to Russia.

Nursultan Nazarbayev retains the constitutional status of 'Leader of the Nation' Nursultan Nazarbayev retains the constitutional status of ‘Leader of the Nation’ Photo: AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM

Concern has mounted that Moscow could leverage the mission to entrench its influence in Kazakhstan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that “once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave”.

Tokayev appeared to further bolster his position by backing acting prime minister Alikhan Smailov to take on the job permanently on Tuesday — a nomination that won the unanimous support of lawmakers.

Former national security committee chief Karim Masimov — a key Nazarbayev ally viewed as perpetuating the retired president’s influence over the government — was arrested on treason charges Saturday in connection with the unrest.

Even if Nazarbayev — the son of shepherds who rose through the communist party’s ranks — is now being sidelined politically, dislodging his family’s extensive interests in Central Asia’s largest economy may take time.

In a significant move Tuesday, Tokayev announced plans to bring an end to a widely criticised private recycling monopoly linked to Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter, Aliya Nazarbayeva, 41.

“This should be done by a state organisation, like in other countries,” he said of the scheme.

But middle daughter Dinara and her husband Timur Kulibayev control Halyk, the largest commercial bank, and are among the richest people in the country. Kulibayev is moreover a key player in the flagship oil sector.

Oldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva’s political career, mainly in the rubber-stamp legislature, has been marked by a series of controversial statements and perceptions of an abrasive style.

The 58-year-old’s reported business interests are also rumoured to be extensive.

Leaks of offshore financial data and a High Court challenge in London have meanwhile revealed the extent of her family’s foreign property holdings — part of a trend of capital leaving that country that Nazarbayev officially discouraged while president.

Many residents of Almaty credited the CSTO as a stabilising force that had helped Tokayev gain control over the situation after spending several days inside as gunfire echoed around the city.

Roza Matayeva, a 45-year-old English teacher, got used to tuning in to her radio during the five-day internet blackout in Kazakhstan’s financial hub that ended briefly Monday morning before the city of 1.8 million went offline again at lunchtime.

News that the Moscow-led bloc had agreed to Tokayev’s request to send a detachment “brought relief and hope that the situation will be decided for the best in the near future,” she told AFP.

“I welcome cooperation with Russia. I think there is no threat to our sovereignty.”


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Here’s How Apple CEO Earned 500% More In 2021

Dani Davis

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KEY POINTS

  • Tim Cook received $98.73 million in total compensation in Apple’s fiscal 2021
  • The sum included $82.35 million in stock awards, a $12 million bonus tied to performance targets and a $3 million base salary
  • He reportedly earned $14.8 million in salary in 2020

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s compensation ballooned to nearly $100 million in 2021, a sixfold increase from the prior year.

The 61-year-old executive, who reportedly earned $14.8 million in 2020, received $98.73 million in total compensation in Apple’s fiscal 2021, according to an SEC filing published Thursday. The company’s fiscal year began in September 2020 and ran through September 2021.

Of this amount, $82.35 million came from stock awards. The sum also included a base salary of $3 million and a $12 million bonus for hitting Apple’s performance targets.

Cook also received $1.39 million in other compensation, including $712,488 in personal air travel, $630,630 in security, a $17,400 contribution to his 401(k) plan, $2,964 in life insurance premiums and $23,077 in vacation cash-out.

Despite the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues, Apple reported 33% revenue growth and more than $365 billion in sales. The increase in annual sales reportedly stemmed from the strong demand over the past two years as consumers working from home splurge on upgrades. 

Cook became CEO of Apple in August 2011 after the company’s late founder Steve Jobs stepped down. Jobs died of pancreatic cancer that October.

In 2021, Apple marked the 10th anniversary of Cook’s leadership as CEO.

In September last year, Cook reportedly received 333,987 restricted stock units, in his first stock grant since 2011 as part of a long-term equity plan. He will be eligible to receive additional units in 2023.

A report by Reuters noted that Cook’s 2021 pay was 1,447 times that of the average Apple employee. 

In 2021, the median pay for employees was $68,254. In 2020, the median pay was $57,783, 256 times Cook’s salary, according to the publication. 

Cook, who has already donated tens of millions of dollars to various charities, previously stated he plans to give away most of his fortune before he dies.

Cook’s net worth was $1.5 billion as of Tuesday, according to a Forbes estimate.

Prior to being named CEO, Cook was Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. At the time, he was earning $500,000 per year. When he became CEO of Apple in 2011, Cook’s salary increased to $900,000 per year. 

Between 2011 and 2020, Cook reportedly received $963.5 million in total compensation.

Apple CEO Tim Cook attends Apple’s “Ted Lasso” season two premiere event red carpet at the Pacific Design Center, in West Hollywood, California, July 15, 2021 Photo: AFP / VALERIE MACON
 


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UN Wants $5 Bn Aid For Afghanistan In 2022

Dani Davis

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The United Nations said Tuesday it needed $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 2022 to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and offer the ravaged country a future after 40 years of suffering.

In its biggest-ever single-country appeal, the UN said $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) was needed within Afghanistan, while a further $623 million was required to support the millions of Afghans sheltering beyond its borders.

The UN said 22 million people inside Afghanistan and a further 5.7 million displaced Afghans in five neighbouring countries needed vital relief this year.

“A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms. My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan,” said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

“Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death.”

Since the Taliban hardline Islamist movement seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, the country has plunged into financial chaos, with inflation and unemployment surging.

Washington has frozen billions of dollars of the country’s assets, while aid supplies have been heavily disrupted.

Afghanistan also suffered its worst drought in decades in 2021.

Without the aid package, “there won’t be a future”, Griffiths told reporters in Geneva.

The Taliban authorities said the aid appeal for suffering Afghans was “very needed”.

“But at the same time I would like to say the need is for all this assistance approved in the past to be delivered during this harsh winter,” senior Taliban leader and the group’s designated UN representative, Suhail Shaheen, told AFP.

He said the inflow of funds would also help in the functioning of the now dilapidated banking system, adding that any cash coming into the country will help rein in the inflation.

The UN said $4.4 billion (3.9 billion euros) was needed within Afghanistan to avert humanitarian disaster Photo: AFP / Mohd RASFAN

“The banks are not working properly so there is also a need to control the inflation and that can be controlled when dollars … hard currency come to Afghanistan,” Shaheen said.

Griffiths said the appeal, if funded, would help aid agencies ramp up the delivery of food and agriculture support, health services, malnutrition treatment, emergency shelters, access to water and sanitation, protection and education.

An estimated 4.7 million people will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2022, including 1.1 million children with severe acute malnutrition.

Griffiths said that without humanitarian aid, distress, deaths, hunger and further mass displacement would follow, “robbing the people of Afghanistan of the hope that their country will be their home and support, now and in the near term”.

However, if international donors come forward, “we will see the opportunity for an Afghanistan which may finally see the fruits of some kind of security.”

Griffiths said the security situation for humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan was probably better now than for many years, adding that the staff in the ministries in Kabul largely remained the same as before the Taliban takeover.

He said the UN Security Council’s move in December to help humanitarian aid reach desperate Afghans, without violating international sanctions aimed at isolating the Taliban, had made the operating environment for donors and humanitarians on the ground much more comfortable.

The money will go to 160 NGOs plus UN agencies delivering aid. Some will be used to pay frontline workers such as healthcare staff — but not via the Taliban administration.

Around eight million children could miss out on their education because teachers largely have not been paid since August, Griffiths said.

UN refugees chief Filippo Grandi said the aid package’s goal was to stabilise the situation within Afghanistan, including for internally displaced people, thereby preventing a further flood of migrants fleeing across the country’s borders.

“That movement of people will be difficult to manage, in the region and beyond, because it will not stop at the region,” he said.

“If those efforts are not successful, we will have to ask for $10 billion next year, not $5 billion.”


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