What is Bachata Music (Characteristics, Styles, Origins)

Mainly known as the most sensual music and dance in the world, Bachata reflects the Latin spirit amazingly with romantic lyrics, passionate grooves, and attractive movements.

What is Bachata Music?

Originated in the Dominican Republic during the mid 20th century, Bachata is one of the most famous genres in Latin music. It has many influences from different cultures and music genres, such as Merengue, Bolero, Son Cubano, Spanish guitar music, and Sub Saharan African musical elements, fusing all of them together in one pot.

The music is typically described as a slow-tempo Bolero with slow and sensual beats, romantic or bittersweet lyrics, and melodies built around a guitar. The original name of the music style was “amargue,” which means bitterness. In this sense, it is often compared to American Blues music with its bitter lyrics on heartbreak and the influences from different cultures.

Bachata is mainly accompanied by the same-named dance style, known as the most sensual dance in the world. It is similar to Cuban Bolero but is more sultry. Across the Caribbean, the United States, and the United Kingdom, Bachata music and dance quickly became highly popular and a regular member of Latin music and dance charts.

Today Bachata progressed and evolved with more influences from different musical styles like R&B, pop, hip-hop, and even techno, which led the tempo of the genre to be increased. Today there are many different styles of Bachata including, traditional Dominican Bachata, Western Bachata, Modern Bachata, and Bachatango, which is a fusion between Bachata and Tango.

What Music Styles Is Bachata Based On?

Bachata is a relatively new music style that originated in the Dominican Republic in the mid 20th century. So, it has many influences from all over the world, just like the history of the Dominican people. Mainly, the music is based on Spanish guitar music with rhythmic aspects from different Latin music like Bolero, Merengue, Son Cubano, along with different musical elements from Sub Saharan African music.

What Are The Instruments Used In Bachata Music?

Typically, there are five core instruments in Bachata music. The lead actor is always a guitar accompanied by a second guitar that plays the rhythm partitions. The bass lines are filled with a bass guitar, and the rhythm is played by bongos and guitar.

The instrumentation is similar to Bolero songs with a slower rhythm. The guitars play repetitive arpeggiated chords on top of the rhythm created by bongo and guira. For Merengue style Bachata the percussion changes from bongo to Tambora drum, and in the first phases of Bachata during the ’60s and ’70s, the percussion group had maracas instead of güira. 

With Modern Bachata, new instruments were started to be used, like synthesizers and electric guitars.

Characteristics of Bachata Music

The characteristics of Bachata can be examined in 3 categories: Bolero sound, five-piece instrumentation, and romantic lyrics.

Bolero Sound

Bachata originated from Bolero music which features a slow tempo and romantic lyrics. As the start point was Bolero, Bachata’s instrumentation was heavily influenced by it with the five-piece group of strings, brass, and piano. 

However, as the style evolved, the instruments changed, but the form stayed the same. Today still, classic Bachata songs resemble Bolero tunes, and even in the modern Bachata, Bolero influence can be found.

Five-Piece Instrumentation

Just like Bolero, Bachata is played with a five-piece instrumentation form including a lead guitar, or so-called requinto, a rhythm guitar, or so-called Segundo, a bass guitar, and two different percussion instruments, which are often bongo and guira. As the music progressed, the instruments changed, but the form stayed similar. For example, electric guitars were adopted instead of acoustic guitars, and synthesizers were added instead of rhythm guitars.

Romantic Lyrics

Bachata songs always feature romantic lyrics without exception. During the first phases of Bachata, the lyrics were more about heartbreak, despair, and loss of the loved one, which resembled American Blues music.

After the 1980s, the lyrics started to be built on double entendres, which is called “doble sentido.” The attractive, lustful, and sultry lyrics were accompanied by the passionate dance, which greatly complemented each other. 

The modern Bachata came back to more romantic lyrics emphasizing love and a more optimistic perspective instead of the early blue times.

History Of Bachata Music

Bachata has a relatively short history which begins in the 1960s in Dominic. The first Bachata song was recorded after the death of the dictator Rafel Trujillo who was depressing the country for years with censorship. 

The first songs, “Borracho de Amor” and “Que será de mi,” were released by the artist Jose Manuel Calderon who was inspired by Bolero music but slowed the tempo down. This new approach opened the doors of a new style which was followed by many other artists.

However, the style was despised by high-class Dominicans as the lyrics, and the dance was too lustful and uncultivated. So, the radio stations and famous music halls were avoiding Bachata music, leaving it to be a low-class fringe musical genre. 

Although this situation slowed down the spread of the music, it gave the music space to evolve freely through the clubs and low-class neighborhoods. In the end, the lyrics about lust, passion, and despair were about being human and reflected in people.

During the 1980s, the style started to evolve, and new instruments were introduced into Bachata. Electric guitar became the lead guitar instead of the acoustic guitar, and the songs started to be built around it.

The influence of merengue became more prominent, and the tempo of the songs got slightly higher. With all of these changes, a Bachata album, Bachata Rosa, by artists including Luis Vargas, Anthony Santos, and Juan Luis Guerra, won a Grammy, which gave Bachata worldwide fame.

And in the 21st century, the genre started adapting modern music into itself with influences from Western-based Latin music, including reggaeton, hip-hop, and R&B. And finally, many different artists produced Bachata songs, including Deja Vu by Shakira, Promise by Usher and Loco by Enrique Iglesias.

Salsa vs. Bachata Music

The main musical difference between the two styles is the tempo. Both are in 4/4 rhythm, but salsa has a significantly higher tempo and faster beats. This is also reflected in Salsa and Bachata dances – Salsa movements are more energetic and faster, while Bachata movements are slower, more romantic, and passionate.

Besides these differences, Salsa songs feature more instruments, and the songs are built around brass instruments while Bachata songs are built around guitar and have five-piece instrumentation.

Is Bachata Music Fast?

Although the early Bachata music in Dominic was faster, as it originated from Bolero music, the songs later became moderate-tempo songs typically. The different Bachata styles have different tempos, with the Dominican Bachata being the fastest and the Sensual Bachata being the slowest. The tempo varies between 108 to 152 beats per minute.

Popular Bachata Songs

Te Extrano – Xtreme

One of the most famous Bachata songs of all time is Te Extrano by the States duo Xtreme. Released in 2005, the song is considered a Modern Bachata piece and has influences from R&B.

Propuesta Indecente – Romeo Santos

Propuesta Indecente is probably the most played Bachata song of all time. Released in 2013 by the American singer Romeo Santos, it is a Bachatango song that fuses Bachata and Argentinian Tango together. The song is catchy, intense, romantic, and beautiful.

Vicente García – Ahi Ahi

The Dominican musician, Vicente Garcia’s Ahi Ahi, won the Record Of The Year in Latin Grammy awards in 2019 after winning the Best New Artist in 2017. Ahi Ahi is one of the most famous modern Bachata tunes today.

Prince Royce, Shakira – Déjà Vu

The American Latin music artist Prince Royce and worldwide famous Colombian singer Shakira’s take on Bachata, Deja Vu, was released in 2017 and got immediately viral. It was elected ‘The Song Of The Year’ in Latin Music Awards.

Summary

Bachata is one of the most famous Latin music and dance styles today. With romantic lyrics, beautiful melodies built around guitar, and sensual dances, Bachata offers many new horizons to musicians and dancers.

I hope that this article helped you understand Bachata better and awoke an interest in you to explore it more.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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