By MONICA RHOR
HOUSTON -- On a night when the theme of change and cultural fusion echoed in lyrics, performances and acceptance speeches, a Colombian rocker who's become a voice for social issues walked away as king of the Latin Grammys.
At Thursday's Houston debut of the ceremony, Juanes, a singer-songwriter from Medellin who started a foundation to help land-mine victims, swept awards in all five categories for which he was nominated, including record of the year and album of the year. He also set a new record for total wins, bringing his total Latin Grammy trophies to 17 -- breaking Alejandro Sanz's mark of 14.
''I can't believe it. I am very, very happy, very grateful to life, to music, to God, to the Academy,'' Juanes said after the awards, noting that he had trouble containing his amazement while accepting the awards. ''For me, this has been incredible. It's a dream.''
Juanes' joy-filled love song, ''Me Enamora,'' won record of the year, song of the year and best short form music video. He also took trophies for the year's best album, and best male pop vocal album for ''La Vida ... Es Un Ratico.''
After his record of the year win, Juanes spoke to the country's Latinos: ''You have chosen the right president. Congratulations. It is time to change'' -- the last line being the title of his latest song.
He also opened the show's live broadcast with an emotional duet with soul singer John Legend. Backed by a chorus, Juanes and Legend performed ''If You Are Out There,'' a new collaboration that's scheduled to be released next week.
Juanes was also part of the closing number, featuring Spanish singer Rosario, and set against a montage of images of homes and lives devastated by land mines.
Gustavo Santaolalla, an Argentine musician-turned-composer whose scores for ''Babel'' and ''Brokeback Mountain'' earned him two Oscars and was nominated for five Latin Grammys Thursday, also won two Latin Grammys as producer on Juanes' record of the year and album of the year.
Among the night's other winners was Puerto Rican singer Kany Garcia, a nominee in three categories, who walked away with two Latin Grammys, winning best new artist honors and best female pop vocal album for ''Cualquier Dia.''
''How do I feel? Super-happy,'' said Garcia, after receiving the awards. ''This has been a marvelous year.''
Mexican alternative rock group Cafe Tacuba, which led the night's nominations with six, picked up awards for rock song of the year for ''Esta Vez'' and alternative song of the year for ''Volver a Comenzar.''
Latin pop diva Gloria Estefan, who was honored with the 2008 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year award Wednesday night, also scooped up awards for best traditional tropical album for ''90 millas'' and best tropical song.
''The only thing left for me to do is to sing in a free Cuba,'' said Estefan, who is the first woman to receive the person of the year honors.
In pre-show awards, Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas picked up two Latin Grammys for best long form video and best alternative music album.
The Latin Grammys give out awards in 49 categories from ranchera to rock en espanol -- a musical diversity and fusion reflected in the lineup of performers, starting with the opening duet and bursting to life in a rousing accordion jam featuring performers from Colombian vallenato, Argentine tango, Mexican norteno and Tejano genres, and showcasing Julieta Venegas' pop hit ''El Presente.''
Another of the night's highlights was a vibrant rendition of Gloria Estefan's hits, ''Mi Tierra'' and ''Oye Mi Canto,'' which featured musical legends Jose Feliciano and Carlos Santana. Feliciano also garnered a Latin Grammy -- his first -- for best contemporary tropical album.
''Winning this award is a source of pride for me, and also for Puerto Rico,'' said Feliciano, who noted that his birthplace had helped form his musical style.
During the show, a video package highlighted the iconic images and multicultural mix of Houston, the country's fourth largest city. Oil rigs, glass-walled skyscrapers and Tex-Mex food painted a quick portrait of the sprawling metropolis.