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History of Bachata:

A Rich and Deep History

 

Throughout the ages, one thing that has always remained a constant throughout all civilizations is the art of dancing. Whether it's the ritualistic dancing of warriors and witch doctors around tribal fires, or the elegant medieval posturing between the upper classes, dance has acted as both a release valve from everyday pressure and a bolstering encouragement to better days, regardless of country or creed. Today, that tradition has carried through with the various music of the world, especially in South America. Part of that tradition is the music of Bachata, originating in the Dominican Republic, which has long been associated with the uplifting and optimistic feelings that both music and dance can bring.

Although Latin American music has a rich and varied history, the Cuban-derived Bachata has actually only been around since the early 'sixties, yet its traditions go back further than that and can be traced to the wonderful guitar tales of the famed Mariachi's of Mexico (although some observers also lay claim to Bachata having some roots in early Italian music). Using the guitar to relate the singer's stories of love, heartbreak and failed romance, its literal meaning is "musica de amargue", or music of bitterness. Although early Bachata originated from the likes of house servants who would unwind at the end of the day with a guitar and a song, today's variation is a slightly different beast.

Instead of the more traditional acoustic guitar, amplifiers are used with electric instruments and this is combined with a more accessible and up-tempo feel to the music, although the bittersweet subject matter remains. There have been many discussions as to why this change came about many observers of Bachata suggest that it's just the natural progression for music that transposes itself between generations and countries, whereas others are a little more cynical and blame English band The Beatles for adding a more commercial slant to it with their version of 'Til There Was You'.

Whatever the reasoning, it can't be denied that this 'new Bachata' has opened up a far more appreciative audience to the genre, who may have simply dispersed it as just some more Latin music, when the truth is far different. As the style has changed over the years, so have the instruments that accompany it whereas a plain acoustic guitar may have been the inspiration behind Bacahata all these years ago, now it's not unusual to find a second electric guitar, as well as a bass and bongo drum to fill out the sound. One addition that has made a distinct difference in sound has been the change from traditional maracas to an instrument known as 'guira', a cylindrical sheet of metal with small perforations, which you then play with a small brush. Sounding like a mix between a drummer's high hat and maracas, it adds a unique style to today's Bachata.

Although the subject matter of Bacahata lyrics is usually anything but joyful, the same cannot be said of the music itself. Played at a four-four tempo, it's uplifting, inspiring and offers a true joie de vivre to anyone fortunate enough to be present at a Bachata session (although some of the slower songs can subdue this atmosphere). With the enticing atmosphere that the small bars and outside tables that are traditionally associated with the playing of Bacahata, coupled with an enthusiastic crowd enjoying fine Latin American drink and fare, it really does leave both an instant impact and a lasting impression.

Such has been the effect that this kind of music has on people, that dance is now an integral part of the whole occasion. Often compared to the salsa and merengue, Bachata dancing is a different style of dance completely. Whereas both merengue and salsa can be enjoyed as either an exhilarating release or a more intimate, almost sexual-like meeting of two people, Bacahata dancing is enjoyed at a slower tempo. Although it doesn't have the same pace as its two contemporaries, the depth of intensity between two dancers is just as strong, if not more so.

For those not versed in Bachata dancing but wishing to try it, the actual basics are very easy to understand and pick up; it's the little movements throughout that take the practice. The overall pattern is:

Three steps in one direction, with a side-close-side combination
Intimate movement
Three steps back in the other direction, side-close-side
Intimate movement