Any white guy attempting to analyze Latin American music is prone to rely on Latin American stereotypes. We love to use the word “passionate” in this particular case. I’ll refrain from those types of classifications, but I will say that I’ve seen the electricity that bachata brings on the dance floor, and I’ll leave it at that.
Aventura – “Obsesion”
Bachata has its origins in the Dominican Republic in the early 20th century, combining African elements with Caribbean rhythms (thank you, Wikipedia). The building blocks include a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass guitar, and most importantly, two percussion instruments — bongos and güira. A güira is a cylindrical sheet of metal with perforations and sounds like maracas when played with a brush. Although the guitar is the most prominent instrument in the genre (especially as the popularity of electric bachata rose over acoustic bachata in the 1990s), to me, the heart and soul of bachata lies in the percussion. When the bongos and güira are going, it’s easy to get drawn into the beat. I love it.
Bachata does have one shortcoming — most songs sound indistinguishably similar. I’ve spent all this time lauding the percussion, but I have to note that the beats and rhythms don’t really vary from song to song. Of course that’s kind of the point — that particular rhythm is what makes it bachata. It’s an essential part of the formula.
The most popular bachata band is most decidedly Aventura — you can find one of their biggest hits “Obsesion” embedded towards the beginning of the post. They were instrumental in bringing bachata into the mainstream by modernizing it and adding some hip-hop and R&B flavor. My favorite Aventura song is “Por Un Segundo,” which adds in some Indian influence as well, to great effect.
Aventura – “Por Un Segundo”
Monchy y Alexandra take advantage of the male/female dynamic, letting the listener in on their conversations. In “Dos Locos,” they sing about being with other lovers, but only thinking of each other. He says “No quiero seguir así, estando con ella y pensando en ti” (I don’t want to keep going like this, being with her but thinking of you), to which she replies “A mí me está pasando igual” (I’m going through the same thing). Then they join together in singing “Que tontos, que locos, somos tu y yo. Estando con otros y amandonos.” (Very loose translation: How stupid, how crazy, it’s you and me. Being with others but loving each other.)
Monchy y Alexandra – “Dos Locos”
I also always liked “Dos Locos” because it was one of the first Spanish songs that I could fully understand without looking up the lyrics. There’s something to be said about singing clearly. I can’t imagine the struggles that foreigners must have with understanding the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Anyway, I digress.
Here’s one by Prince Royce, who appears to be one of the more popular current stars. It’s got a very mainstream feel — you can definitely hear the R&B here.
Prince Royce – “El Amor Que Perdimos”
And now, a bachata version of something you all know. And apparently, according to the always subdued and calm YouTube commentors, he’s standing on John Lennon’s grave and they are not happy.
Prince Royce – “Stand By Me”
One advantage of exploring this one area of a world (Spanish music) that is completely foreign to me is that I can enjoy the merits of bachata in and of itself, without worrying about the “image” associated with it, or its standing among other Spanish genres. That Prince Royce song, “El Amor Que Perdimos,” sounds very much like the Spanish equivalent of a Backstreet Boys song. As much as we try to not let “image” get in the way of our enjoyment of music, it still plays a factor, however small, in our music choices. That’s why we have “guilty pleasures.” Well, I have no previous experience with any Spanish music, so I can fully embrace bachata, and that’s awesome.
Due to the aforementioned fact that I am majorly white, I have no ability nor authority to teach you anything about the bachata dance. You’ll have to go to a club on your own. Or YouTube.