History of Bachata
What is Bachata? Is it music? A dance? As bachata continues to grow in popularity across the United States and the world, this question comes up more and more frequently.
The short answer is both! Here is a quick history of how it all came to be.
Bachata began and was shaped in the bars and brothels of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in the first half of the 20th century.
This popular guitar music from the Dominican Republic sounds much different today than it did in the early days of the genre.
The guitar and guitar music like bolero and son were popular in the brothels and in the countryside of the Dominican Republic. The music industry, at the time, was monopolized by the country’s dictator Rafael Trujillo and his family. Because of this, the local media did not support bachata, so it was hidden from the mainstream and was looked down upon by the elite and those in the cities. When Trujillo was killed in 1961, a number of musicians started to leave the countryside to go record in the capital and entrepreneurs began recording the first generation of bachateros.
At the time, the music was not yet called bachata – it was called ‘bolero campesino’. The word bachata actually referred to casual party where guitar music was often played. It was only later that the term bachata would come to refer to the music itself and, at the time, in a negative, disparaging way.
Jose Manuel Calderon is considered the first Dominican musician to record bachata in 1962. When he first recorded, his music was still more like a type of bolero, inspired by Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian, Mexican and Peruvian music. Following his recordings came many more by early bachata artists like Rodobaldo Duartes, Rafael Encarnacion, Ramoncito Cabrera, El Chivo Sin Ley, Antonio Gomez Sacero, Luis Seguara and the list goes on.
In the years that followed, the music began to define itself as its own genre. While still based on the bolero rhythm, bachata started to become easily distinguishable from it.
Bachata as a dance didn’t start to develop until the 1960’s, as dancers of Son, Bolero and Merengue started to dance to the music as well. Originally danced only in closed position, moving within a small square, the dance was inspired by bolero’s basic steps and evolved over time to include taps and syncopations to the music.
Calderon had left his homeland to pursue his music career but returned from NYC in 1972 only to see that bachateros were marginalized due to the genre still being associated with the poverty of the countryside and prostitution of the brothels where it originated.
Upon seeing this marginalization, Jose Manuel Calderon returned to NYC where the Dominican community was growing in Washington Heights and he was able to give rise to the popular bachata scene there.
The genre has passed again through several phases since he recorded his first bachata single (“Borracho de amor” and “Que será de mi (Condena)”)
By the early 1980s, bachata’s popularity was on the rise and couldn’t be denied any longer. The genre began to see more radio play and musicians even found themselves performing on television as well. An artist by the name of Blas Duran revolutionized the sound by recording with an electric guitar in 1987, producing a bachata-merengue hit, “Mujeres hembras”.
There was a wave of emigration from the Dominican Republic to the United States in the 1980s and 90s and the music was carried with them establishing bachata in the major cities of the East Coast. By the early 1990s, Luis Vargas and Antony Santos came into the scene incorporating more bachata-meringues in their albums. They were the first generation of the pop bachata artists as they rose to fame and bachata began to emerge internationally as music of the Hispanic dance clubs.
When Juan Luis Guerra released Bachata Rosa in 1992, the genre of Bachata began to gain more credibility and international acceptance. In 1999, the group Monchy & Alexandra released their first big hit, “Hoja en Blanco” and went on to many other successful hits and albums. Monchy & Alexandra’s successes further launched bachata music to popularity outside the Dominican Republic.
By the beginning of the 21st century, Aventura had entered the scene. Led by lead singer Romeo Santos, they topped the charts, sold out arenas, and took the genre to new heights.
If you search bachata music on the internet today, you will find the music of Monchy & Alexandra and Aventura along with the newer artists of the genre including Prince Royce, Xtreme, Toby Love, Romeo Santos (former member of Aventura) and many remixes of popular Top 40 music by local & international producers.
As for the dance, it grew and evolved alongside the music but in 2008, thanks to an advertised video on YouTube, bachata dance blew up to widespread popularity as Ataca y Alemana rose to fame dancing to Te Extrano, by Xtreme. This exploded music for bachata and bachata dance into a movement that includes its own congresses, large-scale concerts, dance competitions and dance professionals & schools throughout the world.
Bachata has taken on a life of its own and we’re all here for it!