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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Dominican Republic & The Blues


One day while visiting Miami, I was invited into the home of a couple of Puerto Rican friends who moved there from my hometown of New York City, There, I was introduced to Bachata dancing and learned the basic steps to the tune of a popular group out of The Bronx in New York called Aventura (or Adventure). I was surprised to learn that they loved Bachata music more than Salsa. I myself was a diehard Salsero (Salsa dancer), and still have love of the music. Today, behind Son-Montuno and Charanga (of Cuba) and Salsa, Bachata is my favorite form of Latin American music as it beautifully expresses and celebrates the creativity of hard-working peasants and the African roots of the Dominican Republic.

Bachata was born in the poorest of Dominican neighborhoods, and emerged in the mid-20th century as a slow, romantic style of music played on the Spanish guitar. In Bachata's early years, like African-American blues, it was considered crude and base, and looked down upon by upper class Dominicans who had the music barred from mainstream musical venues, and was seldom ever heard outside of the Dominican Republic. It wasn't even considered a genre of music in those days. Bachata was often related to rowdy parties, and like the blues, the lyrics were about hard drinking, women troubles, manhood.
 
It wasn't until the 1980s that this music began to be tolerated, if not loved. Then the 90s came when a popular merengue musician, Juan Luis Guerra, won a grammy for his album entitled Bachata Rosa, making the way for other Dominicans to bring Bachata to a mainstream audience. Today, bachata can be heard throughout the Dominican Republic and other Latin American communities, especially in Washington Heights, directly North of Harlem, New York City, where I grew up. Today, I call the area Dominica Harlem. The Dominicans call it Quisqueya Heights. Quisqueya was the old name of the Domincan Republic until the invasion of the Spanish.