Bachata is a popular music style and dance from the Dominican Republic. Although developed mostly in last forty years, it has just gained international popularity lately. Nowadays, Bachata is well known not simply in the Caribbean. It becomes more and more popular dance and music style in many countries. So, in order to answer “What is Bachata dance” question, and to understand more Bachata history, the dance and its music phenomenon, it is necessary to introduce historical backgrounds and social groups of origins that Bachata arose from.
Interestingly enough, Bachata was not popular in Santo Domingo until 1990s. Although it appeared in the early 1960s. There were almost thirty years when it existed among local groups without any significant commercial successes.
What is Bachata dance?
How does Bachata history and music evolve?
The question “What is Bachata dance?” is so broad that we need to have a closer look from the very beginning of Bachata history. Contemporary Bachata emerged from guitar music tradition that was often accompanied by percussion instruments, for example, maracas, clave, and guira at that time. Moreover, in the beginning, Bachata songs were as romantic, sentimental melodies similar to Cuban bolero. That source of music was primarily associated with the countryside and known as the “campo” music.
Nevertheless, at first, people who played Bachata were close friends or neighbors. Or sometimes, there are those who gathered after work and just played for fun. That is how the sense of the word “Bachata” appeared. It means cheerfulness and refers to meetings that include music and drinks. Nonetheless, in the Dominican Republic, the word gained other meaning as well. It used to be associated with the lower-class. First of all, such parties took place in the rural areas among workers who partied often and loudly. People gathered after work and met with their families and friends. They often had drinks, food and played guitar music known as Bachata. Some years later, however, the word gained other associations as well for Bachata dance.
The start of Bachata from 60’s
People sought for something to lighten their lives up
After the dictator Trujillo’s death in 1961 changed in the social and economic situation, especially increasing poverty, making people migrate. Many Dominicans moved from the countryside to larger towns and cities. They also had to face abandonment, exploitation and deep social disorder.
Even though, Merengue used to be popular in rural areas as well. Merengue was not quite proper in the new circumstances. The cheerfulness of Merengue did not reflect the social situation of the society after the end of Trujillo’s dictatorship. People often lived without electricity and water. Therefore, they did not enjoy jaunty Merengue sounds.
On the contrary in the Bachata history, the Bachata dance in the 1960s and 1970s allowed combining elements of rural culture with the possibility to attach values in the lyrical part. What is Bachata dance and music made from? There are guitars, bongo, and maraca which were typical of the countryside musical sources. These sources were also easily accessible for peasants. In fact, everyone was able to purchase guitar easily. And they could perform Bachata and consequently were able to articulate their emotions through song lyrics.
Bachata was not welcomed
In the 1960s, guitar music in the Caribbean was associated with nightlife, and as such also with brothels. Drinking and prostitution used to be, therefore, linked by many with Bachata. As a result for some time period, Bachata music was publicly concerned as a kind of music for soldiers or mostly male audience of so-called “cabaret”. It became the black sheep of the Dominican music. Consequently, Bachata began to reflect its environment. Therefore, the new generation of Bachateros (performers of Bachata) used to devote their songs to love, fights, jealousy, and topics. Those are generally connected with night-life activities.
Previously, the upper-classes have rejected lyrical Bachata because of its rural roots. They considered Bachata as vulgar and low-quality music. Performers, as well as their audiences, used to be named “Bachateros”. In that particular time, the use of that term was derogatory. Therefore, its associations with cabaret increased upper-class condemnation for such music. Worsening living conditions reflected in Bachata songs underlined social problems such as drinking, women disparagement, violence, and illicit sex. That is why Bachata music was extremely popular among poorest citizens.
What is Bachata dance & music during the 80’s?
A black sheep
Not many people know about the grey age of Bachata when people considered Bachata is something quite bad. About “what is Bachata dance” in the late 1970s and at the beginning of 1980s in Bachata history, there comes a term “Bachata de doble sentido”. This term appeared from the very popular “cabaret Bachata dance” style. Doble sentido meant a way of substituting words that they would sound similar to others. This uses rhymes that let the listeners have an impression of the next words which will follow. These words will definitely be some curse or anything devoted to sex. Additionally, doble sentido songs included verses made of words which connected (put one after another) and changed their meaning into ones with sexual connotations.
The appearance of “doble sentido” caused another series of criticism. Yet, at the same time, this has made Bachata dance become extremely popular during the mid-development era of Bachata history.
First significant commercial success during Bachata history was “Consejo A Las Mujeres” by Blas Duran. This song was extremely popular for several reasons:
- Blas Duran introduced new sound in Bachata ensemble: The use of electric guitar modified Bachata genre forever.
- That was the first song which was not recorded live. Instead, it was recorded on multiple tracks that influenced the audiences and made it a commercial success.
You can listen to the song “Consejo A Las Mujeres” by Blas Duran below. This is the song that starts the new era of Bachata 🙂
What is Bachata dance during 90’s?
A boom of all time for Bachata!
In the 1990s of Bachata history, this was the time of particular changes in the music itself. The common use of electric guitar became first notable modification. Furthermore, many middle-class Dominican musicians became interested in Bachata recordings and performances. They mark their personal aesthetics on the music which was previously considered underclass genre.
Therefore, social perception of this music style also changed. People no longer defined Bachata music as entertainment for lower classes. Even though more artists used the new instrument for Bachata ensemble. Yet, its characteristic features such as guitar-led ensemble with guitar rhythms remained the same.
The new wave of artists has transformed Bachata aesthetics in the late 1980s and 1990s. They are also the reasons for Bachata international popularity. “Tecno-Bachateros”, as they are recognized, enriched standard sound with synthesizers. They established a whole new and advanced arrangements. Even though the music stylistic had changed significantly, characteristic features of Dominican sound remained. Therefore it is still known as Bachata.
Among one of the most prominent Bachateros, it is necessary to mention Juan Louis Guerra. He gained international fame and received the Grammy Award for the album “Bachata Rosa” in 1992.
Another reason for its particular popularity maybe because of the fact that guitar-based music is familiar to the audiences in many countries all over the world.
Here the song with the same album name in the “Bachata Rosa” Grammy Award Album
What is Bachata dance progressing today?
What about the future of Bachata history?
Young generation artists will play the key roles to secure the future of Bachata. They are the ones who are looking forward to improving it and experimenting with it. Spanish-speaking artists from many different countries began to perform Bachata and introduced them to wider audiences. For example, Mana with his guitar ballad and great Bachata hit “Bendita Tu Luz”.
Nowadays, one of the most recognized and famous young Bachata artists is “Aventura”. Some of the innovations from Aventura would be:
- The vocals seem to be highly influenced by R&B music.
- They start to use sounds effects from rock guitar genre along with R&B-style.
- Female vocals application in the song “Obsesion” made its huge international success.
- Any many more.
There is also some reason that helped in raising the popularity of Bachata in the last decade.
- R&B influences made it more attractive for the young audience.
- The way new Bachata artists perform often reflect the impact of the mass hip-hop culture.
- Contemporary performers are not limited by economic circumstances as they used to be in the past.
- Language differences are no longer a limitation for Bachata artists.
- Bachata artists also easily gain access to American music industry which helps to promote their music.
Some artists, like Toby Love (former Aventura group member), sings Bachata songs both in Spanish and in English. He often combines Bachata rhythms with R&B. Also, his way of singing and performance makes him extremely attractive and popular among the young audiences worldwide.
Bachata is not just a dance.
It is a gem with precious culture and history.
The way Bachata developed during the last forty years is a great example of how music may reflect its time. The Bachata history during the development also opened up some views of people in the past about “what is Bachata dance”. Even though those views were not as positive as people today perceive Bachata dance. Yet, these eras helped to form the beautiful Bachata dance & music today.
In the beginning, people used Bachata to condemn, expressed values and tell stories about everyday lives of the poorest part of the society. These communities mostly lived in the countrysides where Bachata emerged from. As the social situation changed, eventually Bachata music expressed social injustice, poverty and consequently social problems such as inebriety or prostitution. Its development let it finally present form of combining traditional guitar-based Dominican sound with modern R&B style.
This progress makes it more and more popular. And probably this process will strengthen in the next years because of growing popularity of many other Latin sounds.
Would you like to know more about other types of dance? Read these:
- Bachata music – An evolution from nothing to everything
- 3 reasons to prove that Kizomba dance is not my choice
- 6 misconceptions about Kizomba
- Where is Salsa dance from? And What is Salsa?
- All about Salsa music – the root of Salsa dancing world
- The beauty of Salsa dance music: an unlimited adventure of a life time
- Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music. Temple University Press, 1995.
- David Wayne, The History of Bachata.
- Rafael Falcon, Christine Yoder Falcon, Salsa: A Taste of Hispanic Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.
- Isabel Zakrzewski Brown, Culture, and Customs of the Dominican Republic. Greenwood Press, London, 1999.
- Daniel Balderstone, Mike Gonzalez, Ana M. Lopez, Encyclopedia of Contemporary Latin American and Caribbean Cultures. Routlegde, London, 2000.
- Richard Nidel, World Music: The Basics. Routledge, New York, 2005.
- Figueroa, Frank M. The infectious merengue (history and influences of merengue music and dance), Latin Beat Magazine, February 1, 2005.