Bachata: From Rags to Riches to Romeo Santos

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Three weeks ago I was invited to have a one-on-one chat with Romeo Santos. Don’t worry, you’re still at It was an odd request, considering that I have to explain to non-Dominicans that I have no rhythm, therefore I can’t dance merengue, bachata, salsa, etc. The prospect of sitting down with the self-proclaimed King of Bachata motivated me to dig deep into the genre and there’s no better knowledge than my own personal experience.

As far as I can remember, I was introduced to bachata by my mother’s side of the family in the slums of Cristo Rey. I recall memories of my late uncle listening to the latest bachata from Marino Perez, Leonardo Paniagua, and Luis Segura on Radio Guarachita, while sipping his “chatica” of Brugal. Bachata was relegated to the low-income neighborhoods and countryside of the Dominican Republic. It was often referred to as music for military service and cabarets. It wasn’t until the late ’80s that Blas Duran brought bachata to a wider audience when he modernized the sound by adding electric guitars and keyboards to the arrangements.

With the release of Juan Luis Guerra’s Bachata Rosa in 1992, bigger milestones were achieved. For the first time the genre was accepted by individuals living outside of the slums of Santo Domingo. Juan Luis Guerra toured extensively, bringing with him “el sentimiento” around the world. That same year Altamira Banda Show’s “Antología de Caricias” was used as the theme song of the Venezuelan hit novela, Cara Sucia, breaking your heart if you thought Enrique Iglesias’ “Cuando Me Enamoro” was the first bachata used as a novela theme song.

In the mid-’90s a new generation of bachateros, led by Luis Vargas, Antony Santos, and Raulín Rodríguez, helped bachata become a household name along the East Coast of the U.S.

Fast forwarding to today—but not forgetting Aventura’s contribution by crossing bachata over to the Anglo market—I ask myself, “Where will the genre be 10 years from now?” According to music industry insider Porfirio Piña, bachata is growing at such high speeds that it will eventually no longer be under the umbrella of tropical music, but under its own. “As of now, if you see the charts the dominating sub-genre is bachata,” says Piña”. “Pop and urban artists are doing bachata to get the necessary airplay and audience.” This is the case for Enrique Iglesias, Marcos Anthonio Solis, Thalia, Alejandro Sanz, Usher, Drake, and others who have collaborated or recorded bachata.

If you’re curious and would like to know more, we’ve curated a Spotify playlist that takes you from the early bachata recordings of Jose Manuel Calderón to latest from Romeo Santos, Formula V.2. The king himself will guide you through this musical journey with his very own insights into early bachata, tigueraje en Dyckman, and un tro de vaina.