Por La Pista: Alex Ferreira Returns to His Roots for Bachata & Merengue Side Project El Frente Caribe

Photo by Hilda Pellerano

Por la pista! Singer-songwriter Alex Ferreira has decided to take a trip down the road to his Dominican roots, and not even he knows when it will be over. It’s a starkly different direction for Alex, who has taken a turn from sunny folk pop for a bachata and merengue side project called El Frente Caribe.

“Caribbean music is very broad. That’s why it’s called El Frente Caribeso we can have the liberty of playing any genre and play in any country with such genres,” he explains.

Even though Ferreira isn’t focused on innovating, the 5-track El Frente Caribe EP captures a certain unforgettable feeling of merengue and bachata, something we can only call grajo. These songs will have you shimmying and sweating as you listen, hearkening back to 80s and 90s classics with a 2016 flair. And with partially auto-biographical amargue lyrics, El Frente Caribe made me remember more than a few of my exes.

When I listened to La Yugularfor the first time, my mouth got watery. I had to pause the song when the chorus hit, and went to grab a beer. It made me feel like I needed to be at a disco terraza on a hot Sunday afternoon, and its old school sound would make Cocoband proud today.

“What’s great about bachata and bolero is that they’re perfect platforms for that amargue. Singing that type of lyrics with that music goes hand in hand,” Alex explains.

We sat down with Alex after his new EP dropped, and he dished about coming home, starting over, and capturing el feeling.

On How Leaving the DR Helped Him Return to His Roots

Alex Ferreira has come a long way from performing alone with an acoustic guitar standing aside a lamp at a small stage at a bar in the Zona Colonial. He wanted to get sweaty and dirty, and the dirt got to him.

Although Alex doesn’t play güira or tambora, he is no stranger to writing bachata, as he won a songwriting contest held by Dominican cultural center Casa de Teatro at the age of 19. “I always had [these songs] in me. I had always written bachata,” he reveals. He has lived outside of the Dominican Republic for the past 13 years, but that hasn’t disconnected him from his roots. “I’ve always been Dominican, and wherever I go they refer to me as Alex Ferreira, the Dominican. It will always be like that. And it’s not something I’ve been wanting to escape; it’s part of me.”

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Ferreira has been a bit of a daredevil throughout his musical career. His 2012 album El Afán is rife with experimentation, featuring synth-sampling songs and another two headbangers. That’s followed by the album Cinema Tropical, which is an entire synth pop record. Behold El Frente Caribe, a collection of songs that will make you wish you had a girl by your side to dance apretujao inside a colmado.

“I’m also not going to try and sound like Radiohead because I’m not British, nor am I going to play guitar like BB King.”

To him, bachatas these days are too sharp and high-pitched (see: Prince Royce and Romeo Santos). Meanwhile, bongo players just seem to be hog the spotlight, often soloing throughout entire songs. The güirero is doing much more cardio than usual, guayando in order to impress the audience.

So Alex set out to do something else altogether. “Our idea is to go back to those grooves from the 70s and 80s, which were closer patterns, and you played more to the song itself.”

On Forming El Frente Caribe

Alex prefers to call El Frente Caribe a musical collective, so he can play these songs with a group of various musicians. Right now, the crew includes musicians Ricardo Ariel Toribio, Mariela Pichardo, Nicole Santiago and Boly Lingopoff. Since this project is still in diapers, Alex has plans for an incarnation of El Frente Caribe in Santo Domingo, Mexico, Spain, and last but not least, New York, with their lead singer-songwriter as the only common denominator.

“It’s not a band band per se. When I go to Santo Domingo there’s a sound, a flow. Here in Mexico, I play with people from other countries, but I always try to get Dominicans into the band,” he explains.

But Ferreira also recruited outside of his immediate circle. For this record, he collaborated with a young man from Bonao. This man – who doesn’t know how to play anything but bachata, and only goes by the name of Ricky – recorded the guitars for “La Yugular” and “La Insoportable.” Alex set out to work with him to capture a sense of authenticity, capturing that grajo you can only find in bachata’s roots.

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Ferreira does acknowledge that even with Ricky’s sound, it will be impossible for him to imitate the OGs, especially because of the way that music is played and because of his singing. But that is not his goal either. “I’ll never sound like people from the country. I cannot even try and pursue that, but I’m also not going to try and sound like Radiohead because I’m not British, nor am I going to play guitar like BB King. I have my flow and my sound, which is a mixture of all the shit I’ve done throughout my whole life.”

“Our idea is to go back to those grooves from the 70s and 80s.”

Everybody who’s a part of El Frente Caribe will not be limited to playing just bachata and merengue. The group is recording music from different genres such as son, calypso, tropical psychedelic cumbia, and plenty more to come. Everybody’s part of something larger and much more complex.

On “El Feeling”

I spoke to Alex about one of my favorite merengues of all times, Jerry Legrand’s “Todo Me Gusta De Ti.” Every time I hear it, I raise my head and place a hand to my chest with my eyes closed, and say “Ay mi di’co!” As I share this with him, Alex reveals that he’s experienced almost the same feeling.

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“That’s the thing that I’ve noticed in Latin America as I’ve played in Colombia, Venezuela or here in Mexico; there’s a bunch of rockers and hipsters who play EDM, but all Latinos at 3 a.m., when we are drinking and they play our shit, our roots, people get hype and on fire. Because it’s what we have underneath.”

As I listened to La Insoportable,” it brought back childhood memories of my elders listening to these classics. I was just there in the middle, like any other kid my age, subconsciously absorbing the music they played in the background over and over.