Look, nobody is doubting Juan Luis Guerra‘s legendary status. But is he really “the only king of bachata” that exists? If you’re asking Spanish artist Alejandro Sanz, well, then he’d say yes. After UNESCO recognized the music and dance of bachata as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity practice last week, Sanz decided to share some of his own opinions on the genre. And they’re…interesting to say the least.
During his recent concert in Punta Cana, the 50-year-old songwriter congratulated the Dominican audience on their country’s achievement. And, uh, said the following: “In bachata, there was a before and after for me [with] the only king of bachata who exists, and his name is Juan Luis Guerra.” So if we’re going by Sanz’s calculations, it looks like bachata didn’t really matter to him until Guerra came along — probably some time when he rose to prominence the ’90s.
“Yesterday I spoke with him, [the UNESCO recognition] is wonderful, I’m telling you,” he added (as though those in attendance didn’t already realize it?) It’s not the first time we’re seeing Spanish artists share opinions about Caribbean genres that they aren’t necessarily involved with, let alone an authority in. But here’s why Sanz’s designation of Juan Luis Guerra as the “only” king of bachata is especially A) shortsighted and B) plain wrong.
To suggest that Juan Luis Guerra invigorated the genre to such a degree that he eclipses the work of artists before (and after) him is troubling. Such a perspective erases the pioneering performances by Afro-Latino artists — not to mention, completely forgets the history of a genre that was once ostracized and deemed “low class” by folks who definitely looked more like Sanz and Guerra than they did like Joan Soriano.
If we’re talking about bachata “kings” and queens in honor of bachata’s UNESCO recognition, we can all take a nod from OG bachatero Anthony Santos instead. El Mayimbe shared his thoughts on the recent UNESCO honor to a far more inclusive and historically conscious degree this week: “You can say that bachata has three names for the record, and they are mine, that of Luis Vargas and Raulín Rodríguez,” he said. And while he’s (rightfully) tooting his own horn, Santos also took the opportunity to acknowledge many of the artists who came before him and his contemporaries.
“Since I was a child I listened to bachata. I remember Leonardo Paniagua, Eladio Romero Santos, who was my inspiration, Juan Bautista, Luis Segura, Aridia Ventura, all those bachateros and others who did not come to light, but who had bachatas that really stuck in those places where bachata was played,” he said.
Now that’s what respect for a genre looks like. And if it’s not an accurate list of reys (and una reina) for you, we don’t know what else is.