Tracing bachata's rise to popularity and the implications of its development


A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music

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Deborah Pacini Hernandez

"[A]n important work on many levels. [Hernandez'] writings trace the impact of political upheaval and rural migration on the development of bachata and Dominican music in general [and analyze] issues of sex and gender as expressed by bachata's mostly male interpreters."
New York Latino

Like rap in the United States, bachata began as a music of the poor and dispossessed. Originating in the shantytowns of the Dominican Republic, it reflects the social and economic dislocation of the poorest Dominicans.

Derived from the Latin American tradition of guitar music, bachata emerged in the 1960s only to be denigrated by the media, mainstream musicians, and middle- and upper-class Dominicans, mainly because the lyrics—often about hard drinking, women troubles, illicit sex, and male bravado–were considered vulgar and worthless. While popular radio filled the air waves with merengue and salsa, bachata musicians were forced to develop their own system of producing and distributing their music. Not until Juan Luis Guerra won a Grammy in 1992 for his album Bachata Rosa did bachata gain legitimacy and international recognition.

Deborah Pacini Hernandez traces the impact of political upheaval and rural migrations on the development of bachata and the Dominican music industry. Her multi-disciplinary study analyzes the changing attitudes about bachata and its principal musical competitor, merengue. She considers issues of sex and gender as perceived and expressed by bachata's mostly male musicians, especially in the context of changing patterns of marriage. Exploring how bachata—like rap—became respectable and even fashionable, Pacini Hernandez offers a unique perspective of five decades of social, economic, and political change in the Dominican Republic.



"Deep in the shadow of the glamorous merengue, the Dominican Republic has nurtured a music called bachata whose history parallels the blues'. With consummate skill, Deborah Pacini Hernandez sorts out the many forces that have shaped this style from the bottom up. This book is an explanatory wonder that integrates music, politics, geography, history, media, global and local culture."
Charles Keil, State University of New York at Buffalo, author of Urban Blues and Polka Happiness

"This is a profound contribution to the understanding of contemporary Latin American and Caribbean culture. Pacini uses her study of a dynamic and increasingly popular form of Dominican music to draw a remarkable portrait of a society in transition. Combining the best in modern cultural theory with an intimate familiarity with grassroots culture, Pacini's book provides unique and richly nuanced perspectives on the vicissitudes of modernization and urbanization."
Peter Manuel, City University of New York, author of Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae

"...the work of a superbly qualified researcher with personal Caribbean roots. Pacini Hernández really knows her stuff, and the reader who opens her extraordinarily lucid book will soon know a lot, too. Here is a wealth of information collected through extensive interviewing, persistent footwork, keen observation, and lots of listening to bachata...all harnessed to a comprehensive, well-articulated interpretation."
The Hispanic American Historical Review

" interesting and provocative account of why, until 1990, the bachata was the black sheep of the country's music business.... All in all, the book is quite captivating and draws the reader into full emotional contact with a popular, sad, and humorous musical form that might otherwise be inaccessible."
Popular Music and Society



1. Defining Bachata
2. Music and Dictatorship
3. The Birth of Bachata
4. Power, Representation, and Identity
5. Love, Sex, and Gender
6. From the Margins to the Mainstream
7. Conclusions
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About the Author(s)

Deborah Pacini Hernandez is a Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at Tufts University.

Subject Categories

Latin American/Caribbean Studies



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