Bachata: Generations Apart and Together

18 10 2007

Bachata

By Derek Beres

My daily trip to the mailbox reveals coveted surprises. Most often there is a pile of puffy brown envelopes containing any number of new albums, alongside the consistent spam (how do these people get my address…and when are they going to stop calling me “Mrs.” or “ Or Current Resident”) and bills, plenty of those. On Thursday, however, I received two packages that are so distinct yet so related I had to dive deeper.

In his excellent book The Latin Beat: The Rhythms and Roots of Latin Music, from Bossa Nova to Salsa and Beyond , journalist Ed Morales writes, “The tradition of storytelling remains strong in Latin American music, and the simple presence of a musician performing with just a guitar and a well-crafted song is something that seems essential to the Latin American soul.” When one listens to the classic sound of Dominican Republic bachata, one understands why its no surprise this is the style Morales used to introduce that sentiment.

Today, bachata is mostly known through the efforts of Latin pop outfits, notably Aventura, a Bronx-based outfit that sounds like an electronic Gypsy Kings jamming with the Conga Kings. Get behind the sheen and glossy production that often pervades their music, and heartfelt lyricisms are going on. It makes sense, as the bachata style—one that borrowed from the Spanish bolero in size and scope—is romantic by nature.

Another way to put it is romanticized. Bachata grew up in the barrio. The style’s story plays out like other oppressed musics of oppressed peoples: the fadistas of Lisbon, tango players in Buenos Aires, bluesmen in Mali and Mississippi. Servants would turn trashcans and fences into instruments in their nighttime escapades, and the words would tune hearts into a frequency unfed during daytime hours. This melancholic beauty (the style was originally dubbed amargue, which means “bitterness”) is the calling card of Bachata Roja: Acoustic Bachata From The Cabaret Era (Iaso).

Read the full column on PopMatters here.

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