Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"Bachata: A Social History of Dominican Popular Music" by Deborah Pacini Hernandez

What Deborah Pacini Hernandez does extremely well is to tell the human story of Bachata. Not once, in the easy-flowing course of narrative, does she ever lose sight of the principle that the music and dance of bachata were made by and for the consumption of people; endeavouring, as best they could, to negotiate the unhappy circumstances of their existence during the Dominican Republic's economic crises.

This is not a dry tome minimally reworked from the academic thesis of a musicologist. It is laden with the juices of humanity: bitter, sweet, sour, piquant and oftentimes salty. From bachata's rural origins as simple guitar music, its migration to the shanties, its supression, its marginalisation, and its eventual unshackling, Hernandez tells one of the greatest stories never given proper voice in modern music.

For one seeking to understand what bachata is, you will not do better than this book. Be prepared though, you will get an object lesson in what it means to be human - disinterested depravation and the determination to be heard wrestle with each other across all the pages. It is a lens through which musics raised in the same foster home: rap, reggae, salsa, might be better understood.

The book stops short, just at the threshold of Bachata's revelation on the international stage. It is a shame but then it is neat, in that those who would part the curtain behind 'Aventura' to see bachata as it was before, can do it with just one well-written book. And in so doing, will come to be reminded that bad humans do bad things; and at the same time will still take heart... for good people do act to overcome injustice.

Loo Yen Yeo

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:38 pm

    Thanks, this is a great review. I love bachata, and it's good to get the background.