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.
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.