A review of a previously completed essay on Bachata music highlights an idea that requires a deeper analysis. Scholarly sources providing insights on the origins of Bachata music seemed to suggest that the popularity of Bachata music was hindered due to the vulgar words in the lyrics and the sensual nature of its rhythm and melody. They supported this idea by stating that due to the crude words and the less refined sound, the elites of the Dominican Republic banned this type of music forcing it to remain in the lower levels of the country’s socio-economic strata. However, one can argue that it is more truthful to present the opposite, in order to say, that it is the vulgar words and the highly sensual music style that made Bachata music popular in Latin America and the rest of the world.
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Scholarly Arguments About Bachata Music
There are four arguments that can support the claim made earlier regarding the real reason for Bachata music’s popularity in Latin America and the rest of the world. First, the elites in any society does not have total control of everything that occurs within their area of influence. Second, the concept of popularity is linked to the masses or the people and not to the rich and powerful. Third, vulgar words or sexually suggestive musical themes may not find favor with the elites, but these terms and concepts are easily accessible to people from all walks of life. Finally, the slow emergence of bachata to become one of the most popular Latin sounds in the world has nothing to do with its crude history, but as the byproduct of a natural evolutionary process common to all forms of music. However, before going any further, it is important to review scholarly arguments concerning the failure of bachata music to gain popularity due to the use of the so-called ghetto language and unrefined music.
Multiple sources, several authors and experts of Latin music had one thing in common when they reviewed the music of the “bacheteros”, it was not the preferred sound of the Dominican Republics’ high society. In the article entitled “Insolent Origins and Contemporary Dilemmas: The Bachata” the author automatically made the assumption that the songs are insolent, so that the musical pieces are interpreted as having little value (Reagan 373). The same idea was suggested in David Akombo’s book The Unity of Music and Dance in World Cultures. From this point of view, it is not difficult to make the connection between the type of lyrics incorporated into the music and how it is being assessed by music lovers. It is therefore easier to expand the discussion, and point to the simple, and uncultivated poetry behind the songs as the rational explanation for the non-acceptance of the nation’s cultural gatekeepers.
Other scholars who critiqued the genre’s long history of unimportance among the members of the nation’s higher social classes pointed to the technical aspect of the music that came out from the rural areas. In the book that examined the social history of the music’s emergence and development, the author highlighted the fact that the music of the “bacheteros” came out from a community that did not have the same level of technical proficiency as other Latin American countries (Hernandez 58). Although it is true that a genre’s universal acceptance requires the completion of a substantial refinement process, it does not mean that this problem is unique to bachata music. In other words, this is the typical path followed by other music genres when these musical variants started in obscurity in different parts of the world.
Redefining The Meaning of Popular
Following the scholarly arguments, one is made to believe that in order to gain popularity, bachata music requires the intervention of the elites. However, after tracing the historical development of similar music genres, there seems to be an absence of irrefutable evidence suggesting that in order for bachata music to succeed it requires the blessing of cultural gatekeepers and established music connoisseurs. In the book entitled Music of Latin America and the Caribbean, the author described the impact of bachata music when it became relevant like other equally popular variants of Latin music (Brill 76). However, when describing the rise of the said music genre there was no mention of a need to seek the approval of cultural elites. Therefore, there is a need to dig deeper in order to find out how music genres reaches a certain level of importance in order to be declared popular.
It does not require a linguist in order to figure out that the term popular is linked to the idea of people or groups of people sharing something in common. In other words, in order to be popular an object or an idea must garner the support or attract the affection and respect of the majority. In this line of reasoning, one can argue that bachata music became popular because it gained the support of the masses. Consider for instance the emergence of metal or hip-hop music. These two music genres never required the approval of high society. In fact, the proponents of these musical variants simply brought their music to the people. In Ilan Stavan’s book Latin Music: Musicians, Genres and Themes, he argued that this type of music became the favorite of the Dominican Republic’s blue collar workers and the illiterate masses, because it communicated messages about love and heartaches (77). One can find the root cause of the music’s eventual prominence in this statement. The music’s sound and lyrics is more accessible compared to the more formal music genres.
The Evolution of Popular Sound In the Context of Bachata Music
One can argue that the slow emergence of bachata music into the international stage is not due to its humble beginnings or the presence of vulgar lyrics, but the predictable effects of natural process. Akombo’s assertion that in the beginning this genre suffered from irrelevance, because the art form was limited to a sub-category of guitar ballads must not be interpreted as a sign of weakness (46). It has to be reinterpreted as the natural evolution of a musical form in the same way that music genres were invented in one place and has to go through a series of refinements along the way. In other words, the evolutionary process follows a predictable pattern, it starts simple, only to grow into something complex. One can observe this phenomenon beyond the world of music. For example, a modern and complex society started from a single tribe and evolved into a powerful nation.
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Aside from the fact that bachata music is more accessible from the point of view of the masses, its unexpected popularity in the United States, and other parts of the world is also attributed to the outcome of a natural development process. In Gary Sowell’s book Afro Latin Rhythm Romance Dance he pointed out that the music went through a beautiful transformation process producing a dance tradition that is unique to the bachata art form (28). Therefore, this music genre was enhanced even further attracting more music lovers along the way. The continuos improvement also encouraged more people to the said music variant. There is a need to evaluate the statements made in the past regarding the idea that bachata music did not became relevant because of the actions of the cultural elites. One can argue that the evolution of bachata music follows the same pattern as other popular music genres in other parts of the world.
Bachata music’s slow emergence as another example of a popular Latin music form was not the direct result of the cultural elites’ low opinion of the said art form. It was made clear that the preference and blessing of cultural gatekeepers and music experts are not the requirements needed in order for a particular music genre to become accepted worldwide. After reviewing the ideas presented by historians and researchers in the field of music, it was discovered that its popularity is attributed to how it was easily accessible to the general public. It was ultimately the ordinary people who were responsible in popularizing the music of the bacheteros. In other words, the attributes that made music experts to ridicule the genre as crude and unrefined were the same characteristics that endeared it into the hearts of the masses. In addition, its current status is not due to the support of the members of high society, but the outcome of a natural development process. Bachata music went through a process of refinement and evolution that enhanced its value and relevance.
Akombo, David. The Unity of Music and Dance in World Cultures. McFarland & Company, 2016.
Brill, Mark. Music of Latin America and the Caribbean. Routledge, 2016.
Hernandez, Deborah Pacini. Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music. Temple University Press, 1995.
Reagan, Patricia. “Insolent Origins and Contemporary Dilemmas: The Bachata.” Sounds of Resistance: The Role of Music in Multicultural Activism, edited by Eunice Rojas and Lindsay Michie, ABC-CLIO, 2013, pp. 373-396.
Sowell, Gary. Afro Latin Rhythm Romance Dance. Author House, 2014.
Stavans, Ilan, editor. Latin Music: Musicians, Genres, and Themes. Greenwood, 2014.