Last week Afropop Worldwide released the sixth hour-long radio program I’ve produced for them. This time I dove into the world of bachata. You can download and listen to Bachata Takeover: From the Bronx to the World via Afropop.org.

Bachata originated as a rural guitar music from the campos of the Dominican Republic over 50 years ago. Since then it has gone from being disregarded and culturally stigmatized in the DR to becoming undeniably the most popular style of music in the Spanish-speaking world.

Naturally, along the way, it has evolved in sound and style. It’s most recent manifestation is a form called “urban bachata” that was really developed by the Dominican diasporic community living in New York City and combines elements of pop, R&B and hip-hop with bachata’s traditional arrangements.

Listen to my program to find out more.

One of the reasons why I wanted to cover this music was because it’s a fascinating story of how a diasporic community actually precipitated a major change in the music that arguably could not of happened in the music’s country of origin. Not totally unlike dancehall in the UK during the ’80s, urban bachata was largely influenced by being in close proximity to so many different sounds and cultures coupled with just a different everyday life experience in an environment far different from where the music was first developed.

I also wanted to cover it because there seems to be a lack of coverage of this music in the English-speaking media. Consider that some of its biggest artists like Prince Royce have over 365 million views on YouTube for a single song or that Romeo Santos, the “King of Bachata,” just sold out three concerts at Yankee Stadium, or that he’s collaborated with the likes of Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Drake (who sang in Spanish for his part) and it seems a bit odd that so little has been written in English about this music.

Perhaps finally recognizing this, Rolling Stone covered one of the three concerts Romeo Santos performed at Yankee Stadium this summer. While the NY Times profiled Romeo this summer as well.

Interestingly enough, the lack of coverage has not been strictly defined to major American media, though. In speaking with anthropologist Professor Deborah Pacini-Hernandez who wrote the book Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music, there is a lack of academic coverage of urban bachata. Get to it, scholars.

Sussing out the reasons for its lack of coverage may be due in large part to his sonic characteristics. While the music has changed, it doesn’t immediately lend itself to crossover appeal. Adding a dub-step bass drop into the middle of a bachata track is not impossible but it doesn’t come naturally. And unlike styles like dancehall and reggaeton that can easily transcend language and musical barriers, bachata remains largely true to it’s melodramatic tales of love and heartbreak, primarily sung in Spanish, that characterized its sound over 50 years ago.

Maybe 2014 will be the year that bachata broke through to the American mainstream consciousness. Or maybe it won’t. Either way, bachata will be just fine. And perhaps it is best that it doesn’t!

Having maintained a certain distance acts, in a way, as a cultural shield against total appropriation or any dictation of its direction at the hands of DJs, producers or artists from outside the communities which the music is now produced, originates and is recorded. The result is a style of music that remains largely Dominican, or in the very least, Pan-Latino. The new music that is being produced and released, is mostly controlled by those within this community. So while bachata may find influences from outside the DR or diasporic Dominican communities, it been perpetuated by Dominicans and not say….Diplo.

While other Latin-Caribbean styles like dancehall, cumbia, reggaeton, baile, tecnobrega have found inspiration from outside the country and communities of their origin and have been susceptible to outside figures pushing the music in new directions, the music of bachata seemingly remains largely free from this influence of non-Latinos artists at this point. After all, it was Drake who featured on a Romeo Santos song, not the other way around. Which is a unique aspect considering that its popularity rivals all those other styles. And from an economic standpoint, It is also an testament to the steadfast purchasing power of the diasporic Latino community and the 21 spanish-speaking countries in the world.

One final thought: it’s important to emphasis that this observation not be construed as a judgment against styles of music that have open their arms to the influence of those from outside their communities, countries or “scenes” that the music sprung from. I think in a highly interconnected globalized society, this is inevitable and has often times produced fascinating, engaging and plain awesome results.

Rather I make this observation because I think it’s a unique characteristic of bachata that other genres from the Latin-Caribbean world largely lack when finding crossover/global appeal.

This all may change very quickly. Rumor has it Prince Royce is recording an all-English bachata album. Until then, though, bachata’s success has been built of its own accord.

Bunji

“Unfortunately, our music is in a state now where one song doesn’t guarantee you two or three years of travel. You need to have new music every single year,” explains Garlin. “It is a very bad and nasty habit that developed over time. And our music has suffered because of it. Our music has so many songs that have or had the potential to grow beyond a year of existence, but we just cut it short.”

Soca star Bunji Garlin is trying to change soca music forever.  With a clear idea of where he stands in relation to soca music and international crossover success, Garlin hopes to transcend soca’s strict connection with carnival and turn it into a international sound on par with dancehall.

Read all about Garlin’s mission in my latest piece for MTV Iggy.

Vinci

“Dancehall has long since ceased being strictly driven by what is coming out of Jamaica and Jah Vinci’s debut album aptly recognizes this with a forward-thinking, crossover approach. Mixing popular worldwide styles while remaining firmly planted in Jamaica’s latest sounds, Ghetto Born is a seamlessly diverse offering that is bound to find forwards whether at a Kingston sound system party or in a south London club.”

The new Jah Vinci LP that dropped this year is criminally overlooked. Sure, Popcaan’s Where We Come From was the highest profile dancehall album to come out this year and the popularity of its lead single, “Everything Nice” is undeniable. Those looking for a near flawless balance of hardcore dancehall and fiery reggae though should give, Jah Vinci’s Ghetto Born a listen. Here’s my profile of Jah Vinci that dropped earlier this year via MTV Iggy.

Jesse Royal

“If you don’t believe Royal is next in line for the throne, just ask Chronixx — currently the most well-known vocalist of this exciting movement. When making his US television debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this summer, Chronixx shared his good fortune, incorporating verses of Jesse Royal’s infectious roots-heavy hit “Modern Day Judas” into his live performance. The musical nod was in one sense acknowledging that it was Royal’s track that originally found worldwide popularity over the Rootsman Riddim, which Chronixx later cut to “Here Comes Trouble” over his own hit.”

I profiled Jesse Royal for MTV Iggy recently. Personally, I think Royal has a big future ahead of him if he stays prolific. Chronixx is undoubtedly the most popular and well-known figure in Jamaica’s roots reggae revival but Royal might be the most talented. We’ll see what the future holds but until then, read my profile on him and stay tuned!

Tessanne

“I didn’t want to be put in a box. Dancers don’t learn one type of dance, you know? They learn ballet, jazz, modern, tap and so on. I feel the same way about music. All these different sounds and influences are what create me as an artist. I am very proud of it and very proud that we were able to incorporate not just the new sounds like soul and dubstep and rock but to also stay in contact with my roots with the reggae as well.”

I did a straight Q and A with season 5 winner of The Voice, Tessanne Chin. As many already know, Chin was born in Jamaica. Her rise to stardom inadvertently put a spotlight on the not widely known Chinese-descendent population on the island.

Read my piece on her whirlwind year, her new album and what it means to be Jamaican via MTV IGGY.

Popcaan

“This move towards more universally relatable themes is heard throughout the album and displayed in the album’s title Where We Come From. According to Popcaan, the use of “We” instead of “I” is intentional.

“It’s not really just my story but the story of the community where I’m from,” Popcaan says. “And that story involves a lot of other people.”

Better late than never with the link. Read my feature for MTV Iggy on Popcaan and his new album Where We Come From came out earlier this summer. Quotes from Dre Skull too! Biggest dancehall star in the world right now? You be the judge.

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“SOJA is not your typical reggae band. They don’t hail from Kingston, London or even California and there isn’t a single Jamaican among them. Instead, the founding members — two white, dreadlocked best friends — hail from just outside Washington D.C. and grew up on a steady diet of Bob Marley and Rage Against the Machine.

Don’t let the peculiar details of the group deceive you, though: SOJA is the real deal.”

Read my latest piece via MTV Iggy profiling the band SOJA and their new album Amid the Noise and Haste. Like them or not, SOJA is arguably the most popular reggae band in the world right now. White Reggae from the US is kind of a big deal.

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