Bachata History

Dance & Music


Bachata is a genre of Latin American music that originated in the Dominican Republic in the first half of the 20th century with European, Indigenous and African musical elements. The original term used to name the genre was amargue ("bitterness", "bitter music", or "blues music"), until the rather ambiguous (and mood-neutral) term bachata became popular. The form of dance, bachata, also developed with the music in these over 50 years.

A bachata band is composed of at least 5 instruments:
Requinto (lead guitar), Segunda (rhythm guitar), bass guitar, bongos and güira; often supported by electric guitar, guitar.

Guitar music has always been a part of the Dominican musical landscape, but the first bachata recognized as such was recorded in 1961 by José Manuel Calderón. The bachata of Calderón and his contemporaries was virtually identical to the bolero of other Latin American countries like Puerto Rico and Ecuador. In fact many of the songs which these bachateros recorded were covers of earlier boleros, and the music was viewed by society at large in the same way that bolero was viewed throughout Latin America - a romantic music popular with lovers and serenaders.

In time, however, bachata began to be associated with another world, that of prostitution, poverty and delincuency. Relegated to the brothel and the barrio, bachata began to tell the stories of that world, the experiences of the lover of a prostitute, the poor country boy who gets to the city and gets ripped off, with slang and sexual double meanings. From about 1970 to about 1990, bachata was thoroughly unique among Latin American musical genres in its free expression of the underground life of a nation. This free expression naturally provoked even more fiercely the contempt of the Dominican mainstream. Ironically, it was the most despised of these cabaret bachateros, Blas Durán, the master of sexual double meanings, whose music marked the end of the bachata isolation when he began to record with an electric guitar in 1987.

After Durán's innovation popularity of bachata began to soar, as Antony Santos and other bachateros used the new style to record more acceptable, romantic songs. The influence of merengue became marked in the rhythm and the guitar lines of the music, and in fact modern bachata was first made popular by the bachateros who played also merengue. Musicians who were popular among Dominican elites, notably Juan Luis Guerra, with his soft and poetic music made the bachata to be accepted by all sectors of society.

The 1980s and 90s saw a wave of emigration from the Dominican Republic to the Unites States. The emigrants carried music with them, establishing bachata in the major cities of Eastern USA, especially in New York.

By the late 1990s, bachata had became hugely popular across Latinos in the US North East, and these new fans in turn brought the music back to their countries of origin. Large record labels took interest, and invested in slick new bachata productions. Monchy y Alexandra scored a big international success in the date 1999 with the release "Hoja en Blanco", which owes some of its popularity to its combining of bachata with vallenato, a style already hugely popular across Latin America.

Meanwhile, young Dominican-Americans formed bachata bands  began to incorporate local musical styles, like R&B, into their music: it`s in this moment that the band Aventura with song "Obsesion" in 2002, catapulted bachata to the top of global pop charts, and in France and Italy even reached the first position.

It`s around the 2005  that bachata mixed with tango, giving a new music and dance style, bachatango, and by the time few of sounds is been used frequently in many bachata songs; same people affirm that the song of Grace Jones, "I've seen that face before" readapted version of "libertango" from Astor Piazzolla, is the first version of bachatango, in far 1981.

 After years, thanks also to technology and programs to compose music, several remix of famous songs has been released often breaking the idea of bachata as guitar music; by the time bachata has merged with several other music types giving a different flavor, with new sounds and instruments, example:

pop, rap, hip pop, techno, house, reggae, rock...
A not bachata song remixed with bongos playing bachata rhythm doesn`t make it a bachata song but a song possible to dance bachata: the music and the dance evolved indipendent from each other.
The dance in Dominical Rep. was influensed by bolero, cha cha cha, son, and it was possible to see the difference between the dance root of local people.

When the music started to be famous outside from Dominican Rep. it borns a new style of the dance itself with new moves and incorporating several salsa figures, bachata moderna, already presented soft use of waves.
For this reason the bachata is been seen for long time all around the world as the Salsa`s small brother.

In 2008 thanks an advertised video in youtube showing, not impossible moves, but an amazing couple dancing together, the attention to the dance increased exponentially:
at the actual moment the video of Ataka y Alemana dancing on the song Te Extrano, Xtreme, is the most viewed bachata dance video of the history.

By the times, thanks amazing dancers and incredible amazing organizers , the bachata arrived to have own congresses, and dance competition, at the moment Bachatea in Madrid is the biggest congress of bachata ever seen thanks concerts, competitions and a huge numbers of workshop , attracting over 8000 people from all around the world and still increasing.

In latest years is becaming always more famous a type of bachata called Sensual , more involving use of waves and body isolation moves , and not always is danced on bachata songs;
specially in latest years the dancers of bachata evolved and fused the dance with many other one, giving a new life and public attention:

The bachata as dance went out from the schemes and started to be applicate also to other musics; Meanwhile from 2009 "The Real Dominican Style Bachata" is a registered trademartk to pinpoint the misuse and to prove the existence of "the way Dominicans dance bachata" being a dance genre of it's own , due the strong diversity from any new style, specially with sensual bachata that`s not always appreciate from people, who gave also the derogative name "batata" also due the extremely soft music used in the first years.

Some people insist that the bachata dominican is a own type of dance, some people prefer to think there are different styles, meanwhile few zouk dancers tried to fuse bachata with zouk with no real success, eccept few videos in youtube with a good number of viewers also due misleading campaigns from a famous trademark in order to get more attention in their network channels.

For sure in latest years the bachata dance managed to shows to whole world to be interesting, solid and no longer the "small brother" able to adapt and grow, and in this actual moment, the interest on this music and dance is worldwide growing.

Antonino Cusenza . updated in date 25/09/2016.


"Bachata A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music" ,
published by Temple University Press in 1995, written by Deborah Pacini Hernandez. 

David Wayne from his years living in the Dominican Republic, interviews conducted with bachata musicians, and work as a guitarist in numerous bachata bands.

Antonio Cusenza from dance experience, travels and studies.