In most Latin American dictionaries, bachata is defined loosely as revelry or a spree, but in the Dominican Republic, bachata has come to be a popular guitar-based music that emerged from the countryside and urban shantytowns in the early 1960s. Early bachata was influenced by a diverse set of Latin American genres including Cuban bolero and son, Puerto Rican jíbaro music, Mexican corrido and ranchera, Colombian vals campesino and pasillo, and Dominican merengue.[1] Some bachatas, in fact, are basically merengues performed by guitar-based ensembles.  The most important influence, however, came from the bolero, from which bachata inherited its typical instrumentation of guitars, bongos, and maracas. It also inherited the use of the habanera rhythm, albeit sped up, and lyrics addressing universal themes of love and heartbreak.[2] Eventually, a distinct and autochthonous style characterized by nasally, high pitched vocals, and fast, arpeggiated guitar riffs, emerged from a skillful combination of genres. During the 1970s and 1980s, bachata was looked down on by the upper crust of Dominican society for its low-class, rural associations, sexual double entendre, and the lack of formal musical training of most of its practitioners. Yet, with the release of Juan Luis Guerra’s Bachata Rosa album in 1991, bachata catapulted into the mainstream, even surpassing merengue in terms of its popularity and album sales.[3]  In the 2000s, the New York’s Bronx-based group Aventura, led by Romeo Santos, rose to prominence with their modern urban style of bachata.[4] Since the 1960s, the genre has transformed itself from music of marginality into a highly successful, international phenomenon.   

Musical Structure

There is no standard form of bachata nor is there a typical harmonic schema.  Many bachatas are modeled on classic Dominican/Cuban boleros, which themselves vastly differ in regard to form.[5] 

The fundamental rhythm of bachata is the habanera, a rhythmic cell which derives from the contredanse.  One of the most well-known examples of this rhythm is from the aria “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle,” from Georges Bizet’s opera, Carmen. The habanera rhythm is quintessential to many other popular Latin American genres including bolero, son, and tango. As mentioned, the bolero is the main predecessor of the bachata and its influence is heard most prominently in the typical bachata bass line. [6]  For this reason, bachata is sometimes described as a faster bolero.[7]

The introduction to Cariñito de mi vida, one of the first and most successful bachata songs recorded and popularized by Luis Segura, one of the founders of the genre illustrates bachata’s typical arpeggiated guitar riffs. It delivers a steady-paced punteo (fingerpick) pattern that is carried throughout the whole piece.  

Cariñito de mi vida, Luis Segura


The typical bachata group consists of five instruments: requinto (lead guitar), segunda (rhythm guitar), bass, bongos, and güira. As time has passed, its instrumentation has varied according to musicians’ individual styles and the genre’s evolution. For instance, some have included an electric guitar, a piano, saxophones, and percussion instruments such as timbales.


Lyrics tend to illustrate the rural, working-class origins of those who traditionally sing bachata, often using Dominican street slang.  The lyrics of early bachatas were primarily concerned with intimate themes of love and heartbreak. The singer often addressed a woman, a trait inherited from the bolero.

"Muero contigo" by Rafael Encarnación

In the late 1970’s, bachata lyrics began to focus on transient sexual liaisons instead of intimate romantic relationships, and referred to women in the third person. This new style often employed sexual innuendo known as doble sentido (double entendre, double meaning). Bachateros such as Tony Santos and Blas Durán, were at the forefront of this movement.

"Pelando pa' que otro chupe" by Blas Duran

In the 1980’s, in an effort to counteract negative associations with the term bachata, some musicians began to refer to their music as the music of bitterness, or amargue, an emotion that became widely recognized in Dominican popular culture. For example, Ramón Cordero’s Mal herido tells the story of a man who feels wounded due to heartbreak; the singer does not seem to have a way out of his profound romantic bitterness.

"Mal Herido" by Ramon Cordero

The 1990’s were a golden age for Dominican bachateros. Juan Luis Guerra developed a new, more literary and romantic style of bachata that appealed to middle-class Dominicans in his successful album, Bachata Rosa. This lessened the stigma associated with the genre. Many traditional bachateros, such as Antony Santos, Luis Vargas, and Raulín Rodríguez, soon rose to mainstream stardom both in the Dominican Republic and abroad. They cultivated a more romantic style of bachata, even though doble sentido songs were still being produced. Although the feeling of bitterness, or amargura was still present, many songs portrayed the incessant longing to find love against all odds. One of the main examples of this era is Antony Santos’ Voy pa’llá:

"Voy pa'lla" by Antony Santos

In the 2000’s, urban bachata, which incorporated elements of hip-hop, rap, R&B, and English lyrics, began to flourish. While many praised the subgenre for taking bachata to unprecedented heights, others said that the influx of urban rhythms detracted from the essence of the “original” rhythm.[8] Its success, however, has promoted dominicanidad, or Dominicanness, in the United States, Latin America, and even Europe, where festivals and congresses have promoted the genre.

New York’s group Aventura, led by Romeo Santos, was the most prominent exponent of modern, urban, bachata. Aventura’s contributions to bachata can best be heard in their vocals. Besides the constant flow between Spanish and English in their lyrics, their singing style incorporates elements of hip hop, rap, and R&B.[9] This made the ensemble recognizable worldwide.[10]

Bachata in New York City

The increasing popularity of bachata in the U.S. is directly linked to the emergence of bachata artists in New York City who represented a young generation of Dominicans. New York City became a competing scenario alongside the Dominican Republic for the production of bachata acts. In the 1990s, New York City’s group Aventura, led by Romeo Santos, was the most prominent exponent of urban or modern bachata. Other urban bachateros followed suit, including Prince Royce, and Andre Velóz, who has developed a unique, woman-centered style of bachata that includes a feminist view of women’s position in society. 

"Cuando volverás" by Aventura

Many New York venues, such as the United Palace, have presented bachata acts. In 2004, the United Palace was the site of a historic concert by Dominican bachatero Antony Santos. Other venues regularly presenting bachata artists include Don Coquí in Queens[11] and Salsa con Fuego in the Bronx[12]In 2007, Aventura became the first bachata artist to play and sell out Madison Square Garden.

The next development reflects bachata’s penetration into mainstream society through Romeo Santos as a soloist. Santos’ voice also revolutionized bachata in the Dominican Republic. Santos brought a distinctness, incorporating a pitch unknown to bachateros up until that moment. His pitch, notably high and tender, however, is highly recognizable and associated with the best singers in the U.S. music scene. Santos’ artistry generated a crossover in reverse when highly popular U.S. English-only singers included bachata songs in Spanish in their repertoires.

Antony Santos’ performance at the United Palace

Andre Veloz - Eta Que Ta Aqui (Official Lyric Video)


[1] Pacini Hernandez, Deborah. Bachata: A Social History of Dominican Popular Music. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1995, 1-8.

[2] Sellers, Julie A. Bachata and Dominican Identity / La bachata y la identidad dominicana. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014, 21.

[3] Pacini Hernandez, Bachata, 3.

[4] Tallaj, Angelina. “‘A Country That Ain't Really Belong to Me’: Dominicanyorks, Identity and Popular Music,” Phoebe, vol. 18, no. 2, Fall 2006, 25-27.

[5] Pacini Hernandez. Bachata, 19.

[6] The bolero developed in the Eastern part of the island of Cuba in the late 1800’s. Written in 2/4 or 4/4, this type of bolero is not to be confused with the Spanish bolero, which is in 3/4 time. The bolero was introduced into the Dominican Republic around 1895 by exiles following the Cuban War of Independence.

[7] Herrera, Miguel Angel. “La bachata: una manifestación que se inició… sin ser música,” Escala, Revista Artística, Oct 27, 1991.

[8] Morel, Aurelio. "Urban Bachata: Battle of the Generations." Writing About the Arts & Culture, 2013, Accessed 20 January, 2020.

[9] “El coro dominicano” is a merengue de guitarra recorded by Aventura for their first production as a group. The song includes a rapping chorus. Prior to taking the name Aventura, the group was called Los Tinellers (The Teenagers).

[10] Burgos Matos, Wilfredo José. Un ritmo que emigra: Cima 103.7 FM y la escena de la bachata en Puerto Rico. 2015. Universidad de Puerto Rico, Master's Thesis.

[11] 28-18 31st Street, Astoria, New York

[12] 2297 Cedar Avenue, Bronx, New York