It is a music closely linked to the joy not only of a people like the Dominican but of an entire region that has assimilated it with their support, said the delegate of the Dominican Republic after the announcement of the committee of the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (Unesco) that makes this decision.
The declaration was given after a hot debate among the delegates, several of whom did not consider that the musical rhythm met some criteria to be a World Heritage Site.
Some questioned that there is not enough community participation around gender and warned of their “over-commercialization.” The bachata accompanies in this prestigious list his brother, the universal merengue, present since 2016.
During the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo (1930-1961), the bachata “was repressed and was relegated to the lower strata. While with Trujillo’s death, his popularity increased and he began to be heard openly in different public environments,” said Xiomarita Pérez, folkloric consultant and dance specialist.
The bachata “was previously repudiated by the upper class, but (…) when the (domestic) service person had his radio in the kitchen, they listened to it even though they didn’t dance,” he added.
As for his lyrics, “it can be compared with the Jibarito de Lares of Puerto Rico, the ranchera of Mexico, the Typical of Panama and the vallenato of Colombia, but in the dance aspect it is totally different, being unique in its style”, detailed.
Bachata is a rhythm that evokes sensuality in dance, achieving its particular cadence with percussion instruments and strings.
They emphasize the guitar, the güira (a kind of hollow metal tube that is rubbed with a small comb), the bongó (drums) and the bass.
The baritone José Manuel Calderón – born in 1941 – is considered one of the precursors of the bachata and recorded his first two songs, “Drunk of love” and “Condemnation” in 1962, after the death of the dictator.
He is known as “King of the bachata” for the lyrics of his songs and his unique voice. Among his successes are “Luna” and “Save me.”
Rafael Encarnacion, who died in a traffic accident in 1964, with just 20 years, is also recognized as another of the pioneers. “I die with you” and “Pena de hombre” were among his successes.
Pérez explained that it was towards the end of the 1980s when the “high musical and rhythmic quality” of bachata was recognized, managing to cross the borders of the Caribbean island of some 10 million inhabitants.
The expansion of the genre is worthwhile by artists like Juan Luis Guerra, who has put millions to hum songs like “Bubbles of love”, “Little stars and goblins” and “Pink bachata”.
“Juan Luis Guerra internationalizes it, marketing it, and that was a boom,” Pérez added, referring to the Dominican artist with about 70 million records sold and winner of numerous awards, including 21 Latin Grammy.
Now, many singers and composers “recreate it with a faster sound, which changes the way they dance; while artists such as Romeo Santos, Prince Royce and others sing softer and more sensual bachatas, which can be compared to the African genus Kisonga “Perez remarked.
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Women also take over gender. Proof of this is the work of Leslie Grace, of Dominican parents and born in the United States. The influence of gender can be seen, for example, in its theme “How silence hurts.”
“If the bachata had not changed, it stays there, the people change it because it is latent and dynamic. It is still alive,” Pérez said.
Unesco receives hundreds of applications annually from the 178 states that ratified the convention, but agrees to consider just under 50.
While entering this list gives them a hallmark, the declaration is only the most visible part of the process, whose ultimate goal is the protection of cultural diversity from growing globalization.