Bachata, drive that bitterness away! [Dominican Republic]

Bachata is a genre of music that has its origins in the brothels and bars of Dominican Republic. It is an offspring of marginality and poverty.

Dominican musician Crispin Fernandez, places suffering in the broader context of Dominican history. “Our people have suffered plenty and can sing their bachata to pain,” he says.

The bachata dance, well-known for its closed position and sensuality, developed alongside the music and is now danced by people from all over the world. According to Bachata musicians, it was in the 1970s that the guitar-based music they played started being identified as the term bachata.

Dictator Rafael Trujillo , who ruled the Dominican Republic with an iron fist for almost thirty years, was known to have despised bachata. He wished for all music played publicly to reflect a modern society, and bachata players, usually poor, rural or uneducated, certainly did not reflect his image of a modern regime.

Trujillo was assasinated in 1961 and by the 1970s, the bachata had already been imbued with negative connotations. It was seen as being backward, low in quality and better to be confined to ‘rural’ areas.  When a middle or upper-class person hears that music, it would be common to hear them exclaim to “Take that Bachata off!”

Listeners and Musicians of bachata were called bachatero, a derogatory term in nature.

Before the 1990s, bachata was also seen as disgraceful to the country’s music business. Only provincial or minor AM stations would play the music. Low-class bars would feature live bachata performances and bachata records could only be purchased in street stalls in working-class shopping districts. This made it hard for bachata to extend its reach beyond the country’s lower classes.

Since the 1990s though, Bachata has permeated through the socio-political boundaries and seen significant changes. Electric guitars have been introduced into the music by the bachateros themselves.

Middle and upper class musicians have intruded into the bachata domain too, redefining the status of the genre.


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