Frontier Bachata

(de la línea abajo)

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After “Mujeres hembras”, other bachateros were inspired to record with an electric guitar. Blas Durán’s most important successors, and among the most important founders of modern bachata, were from the area of Montecristi, on the Northwestern frontier with Haiti. Luis VargasAntony Santos and Raulin Rodriguez dominated bachata in the early 1990s, and Santos particularly helped to create the style which we hear today. All three are still eminent figures in the genre.

While some of Durán’s most popular songs were bachatas as such, his biggest hits were merengues recorded with an electric guitar, and the frontier bachateros included as much merengue as bachata in their repertoire. Doble sentido was also a major part of the early success of Luis Vargas, particularly, and Antony Santos to some degree. This was no doubt due to the great popularity Durán had given the doble sentido merengue at the time that Santos and Vargas began their careers, but the performer who had the biggest influence on the frontier bachateros wasn’t Blas Durán, but rather Eladio Romero Santos.

Quite naturally, the music began to reflect the environment in which it was being performed. A whole generation of bachateros sing about lovers who are prostitutes, fights and jealousy over lovers, poverty and the problems of living in the worst, most dangerous barrios in the city, despair and debauchery. The bachateros of this period also sang songs of despecho, insulting a lover who has jilted them, as well as challenges and insults to other bachateros. Almost every bachatero before 1990 did some work in this style, and certainly Luis Segura can be considered in one sense a bachatero de cabaret; but the bachateros who most defined this style included Marino Pérez (Nadie me quita esa hembra) , Bolivar Peralta, Blas Durán (Equivocada) , and Mélida Rodriguez. Rodriguez gives us a rare glimpse (in bachata) into the woman’s experience in the cabaret.

It was with cabaret bachata that the genre began to consolidate, as bachateros dealt with themes that could in no way be considered appropriate for bolero. There had been boleristas who specifically dealt with the bar and the brothel, like Felipe Rodriguez and Blanca Iris Villafañe, and their music was a precursor to this phase in bachata’s history. Their music, though, had been recorded with the refinement of the bolero style, and sung in standard Spanish. The bachateros de cabaret were genius in their use of slang and street expressions to insult one another or evoke the world in which they were living. Marino Pérez, who went on to die when he vomited up his liver entirely, was particularly adept at this sort of composition, and was one of the models for a whole generation.

Musically, the bachata which came out of the cabaret was generally rough, often recorded in one take through one microphone. The aesthetic called for sentiment and sabor, flavor, rather than a polished product; this was of course due in part to the poverty of many of the musicians and producers, who couldn’t afford a second take. (There were exceptions, like the work done in the early period of bachata by Cuco Valoy, calling himself “El Pupi de Quisqueya”, which was based on bolero, extremely carefully played and recorded, and thoroughly “de cabaret”).