I've always felt that bachata held an anachronistic position in the landscape of contemporary pop music. With its gracefully delivered, stately melodies and austere instrumentation (guitar, bass, bongos and guiro), bachata harkens back to a simpler era in music, before the influence of synthesizers, drum machines and auto-tune.
Despite its traditional leanings, bachata is wildly popular. Not just in itts home country of the Dominican Republic, but throughout all of Latin America and right here in Indy too.
On just about any night of the week you can find a club spinning the Dominican sound somewhere in Indianapolis and on Saturday, December 10th the city will host one of the genre's biggest stars: Ramón "Monchy" Rijo performing with his group Monchy & Nathalia.
Ramón Rijo was a pivotal figure in the development of bachata. In 1999 his group Monchy & Alexendra recorded one of the genre's first international hits, "Hoja en Blanco," a song that's often credited with popularizing the music outside of the Dominican Republic.
Monchy & Alexendra - "Hoja en Blanco"
Monchy & Alexendra came into existence at a time when bachata was solidifying its transformation from a rural acoustic music to a more modern, urban sound that emphasized the electric guitar as a lead rhythmic voice.
Bachata's roots date back to the early 20th century. The style was born in the Dominican countryside from a mix of influences, including Cuban bolero, Mexican huapango and a variety of other guitar-based Latin music.
In 1961, José Manuel Calderón recorded what is generally considered the first bachata single “Borracho de Amor.” At this point, the music was still viewed as a variant of bolero, and the genre had not yet acquired the name bachata. Originally, the term bachata was used to describe an informal, countryside party and was applied to the music in a disparaging way by the Dominican upper classes who viewed bachata music as vulgar and culturally backward.
José Manuel Calderón - “Borracho de Amor”
But, the music continued to grow in popularity and define itself as a genre. By the mid-1980s, bachata had acquired many of its most distinguishing characteristics, including the use of rhythmic elements borrowed from the countries other national music, merengue.
Blas Durán's 1987 hit "Mujeres Hembras" was one of the first bachatas to feature an electric guitar and demonstrates bachatas shift from the bolero to a more dance-oriented style.
Blas Durán - "Mujeres Hembras"
The 1990s saw the continued modernization of the bachata sound and the emergence of groups like Monchy & Alexendra, who brought the music to new levels of popularity. By the early 2000's bachata had established itself is a dominant force in Latin popular music.
Monchy & Nathalia will appear at the Salon Internacional on Saturday 9 p.m.