Bachata (music)

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Bachata is a genre of music that originated in the Dominican Republic in the first half of the 20th century. It is a fusion of southwestern European influences, mainly Spanish guitar music, with indigenous Taino and Sub Saharan African musical elements, representative of the cultural diversity of the Dominican population.[1]

The first recorded compositions of bachata was done by José Manuel Calderón from the Dominican Republic. Bachata originates from bolero and son (and later, from the mid-1980s, merengue). The original term used to name the genre was amargue ("bitterness", "bitter music" or "blues music"), until the rather ambiguous (and mood-neutral) term bachata became popular. The form of dance, bachata, also developed with the music.[2]

Bachata arose in the working class areas of the country. During the 1960s and early 1970s, it was seen as music of the lower class by the Dominican elites, when it was known as amargue music. The genre's popularity arose from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the rhythm began to reach the mainstream media. The genre was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of humanity by UNESCO.[3]

A couple dancing bachata

The earliest bachata originated in the countryside of the Dominican Republic in the first half of the 20th century. José Manuel Calderón recorded the first bachata song, "Borracho de amor" in 1962. The genre mixed the pan-Latin American style called bolero with more elements coming from son, and the troubadour singing tradition common in Latin America. During much of its history, bachata music was disregarded by Dominican elite and associated with rural underdevelopment and crime. As recently as the 1980s, bachata was considered too vulgar, crude and musically rustic to be broadcast on television or radio in the Dominican Republic.

In the 1990s, however, bachata's instrumentation changed from nylon string Spanish guitar and maracas of traditional bachata to the electric steel string and guira of modern bachata. Bachata further transformed in the 21st century with the creation of urban bachata styles by bands such as Monchy y Alexandra and Aventura.[4] These new modern styles of bachata became an international phenomenon, and today bachata is one of the most popular styles of Latin music.




The typical bachata group consists of five instruments: requinto (lead guitar), segunda (rhythm guitar), bass guitar, bongos and güira. The segunda serves the purpose of adding syncopation to the music. Bachata groups mainly play a straightforward style of bolero (lead guitar instrumentation using arpeggiated repetitive chords is a distinctive characteristic of bachata), but when they change to merengue-based bachata, the percussionist will switch from bongo to a tambora drum. In the 1960s and 1970s, maracas were used instead of güira. The change in the 1980s from maracas to the more versatile güira was made as bachata was becoming more dance oriented.[2]


The first Dominican bachatas were recorded immediately after the death of Trujillo, whose 30-year dictatorship was accompanied by censorship. José Manuel Calderón is credited as having recorded the first bachata singles: ("Borracho de amor" and "Que será de mi (Condena)") released on 45 rpm in 1962. After Trujillo's death, the floodgates were opened: following Calderon's historic bachata debut came more recordings by the likes of Rodobaldo Duartes, Rafael Encarnacion, Ramoncito Cabrera, El Chivo Sin Ley, Corey Perro, Antonio Gómez Sacero, Luis Segura, Louis Loizides, Eladio Romero Santos, Ramón Cordero and many more. The 1960s saw the birth of the Dominican music industry and of the bachata music which would dominate it.

While the bachatas being recorded in the 1960s had a distinctly Dominican flavor, they were regarded at the time as a variant of bolero, as the term bachata, which originally referred to an informal rustic party, had not yet come into use. This term was first applied to the music by those seeking to disparage it. The higher echelons of Dominican society felt that bachata music was an expression of cultural backwardness, and a campaign ensued to brand bachata in this negative light.[5] Bachata was not always legal, but to enjoy this kind of music it was considered "vulgar and sensual" and the higher class did not want to ruin the reputation so they did not dance nor listen.[6] If one did dance bachata or listen to bachata it was considered lowly. Since bachata was illegal, it was not very popular but that has changed throughout the years since many famous artists have traveled and made this kind of music more heard and more popular but yet it is not as popular as the national dance merengue. Bachata music was seen as having sexualized lyrics because the musicians that wrote this kind of music did not have any musical or academic schooling which lead to the dancing being sexual as well.[7]

The 1970s were dark years for bachata. The music was seldom played on the radio, and almost unmentioned on television and in print. Bachateros were barred from performing in high society venues – having to content themselves instead with gigs in bars and brothels in the country's poorest neighborhoods. The music was influenced by its surroundings; sex, despair and crime were amongst numerous topics the genre highlighted. This only furthered the cause of those seeking to tar bachata as a music of the barrios. Despite its unofficial censorship, bachata remained widely popular, while orchestral merengue benefited from the country's major publicity outlets. However, bachata continued to outsell merengue[citation needed]. Some bachateros to emerge from this era were Marino Perez and Leonardo Paniagua.

By the early 1980s, bachata's popularity could not be denied. Due to popular demand, more radio stations began playing bachata, and bachateros soon found themselves performing on television as well. Bachata in the meantime had begun to take on a more dance-hall sound: tempos increased, guitar playing became punchier, and call and response singing more prevalent. Bachata style merengues, or guitar merengues, also became an increasingly important part of the bachata repertoire. Blas Durán was the first to record with electric guitar in his 1987 bachata-merengue hit, "Mujeres hembras".[5]

By the early 1990s, the sound was further modernized and the bachata scene was dominated by two new young stars: Luis Vargas and Antony Santos. Both incorporated a large number of bachata-merengues in their repertoires. Santos, Vargas and the many new style bachateros who would follow achieved a level of stardom which was unimaginable to the bachateros who preceded them. They were the first generation of pop bachata artists and received all the hype and image branding typical of commercial pop music elsewhere. It was also at this time that bachata began to emerge internationally as a music of Hispanic dance-halls.

Dominican singer-songwriter Juan Luis Guerra.

Juan Luis Guerra's Grammy-winning 1992 release, Bachata Rosa, is routinely credited[by whom?] with making the genre more acceptable and helping bachata achieve legitimacy and international recognition. Although he used the word bachata in the album title, his songs have a more traditional bolero sound.[8]

By the beginning of the 21st century, the bachata group Aventura had taken the bachata envisioned by Juan Luis Guerra in the early 1990s to new heights. Led by lead singer Anthony "Romeo" Santos, they revolutionized and modernized the genre. They sold out Madison Square Garden numerous times and released countless top ten hits on the hot Latin charts including two number one hits "Por un segundo" and "Dile al Amor". Other big bachata acts in the decade included "Monchy y Alexandra" and Los Toros Band. By the beginning of the new decade, Aventura had split up because group member Henry Santos wanted to go solo, leaving the others on their own. Today, parallel to bachata music, fusion genres arose in Western countries such as the US, combining some of the rhythmic elements of bachata music with elements of Western music such as hip hop, R&B, pop, techno and more. This fusion genre is quite popular among Western audiences, and often includes covers of Western pop songs played on MTV and non-Latin radio stations. Notable artists of the new fusion genre are Prince Royce, Xtreme and Toby Love, among others. By 2011, former Aventura member Romeo Santos also joined the fusion bandwagon, releasing several new albums which became popular in the US and other Western countries. Not only has bachata's popularity changed but so has its lyrics; before the lyrics were mostly about a cheating relationship and hurt feelings but now it talks about love and is more romantic. According to Bachata: Música Del Pueblo ("Bachata: Music of the People") the writers said: "In the past decade, bachata has been transformed from a ballad-style guitar music of the rural poor in the Dominican Republic to the hottest new music in the international Latino music market."[9]

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  1. ^ "Origins of Bachata Music". 14 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b Pacini Hernandez, Deborah. "Brief history of Bachata", Bachata, A social history of a Dominican popular music, 1995, Temple University Press. Retrieved on December 4, 2008 Archived September 10, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Music and dance of Dominican Bachata".
  4. ^ Ilich, Tijana. "All About Bachata Boy Band Aventura". LiveAbout. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  5. ^ a b Pacini Hernandez, Deborah. Bachata, A social history of a Dominican popular music, 1995, Temple University Press. Retrieved on December 4, 2008.
  6. ^ "The popularity of the Bachata - a dance from the Dominican Republic is growing in Europe". euronews. 2015-06-16. Retrieved 2019-11-13.
  7. ^ Baud, Michiel (2008-04-15). "Intellectuals and Dictators in the Dominican Republic". European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies (84): 101. doi:10.18352/erlacs.9628. ISSN 1879-4750.
  8. ^ iASO Records, David Wayne. "Juan Luis Guerra Biography" Archived 2009-09-03 at the Wayback Machine, Juan Luis Guerra Biography, 2008, iASO Records.
  9. ^ Gill, Hannah; Savino, Giovanni (2005-01-01). "Reviewed Work: Bachata: Música del Pueblo (Bachata: Music of the People) by Giovanni Savino". Ethnomusicology. 49 (1): 172. doi:10.2307/20174370. JSTOR 20174370.

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