18.10.13 : Juan Luis Guerra – the Cuban Connection !

Good day folks!

This Wednesdays’ night was amazing – I attended a Juan Luis Guerra concert.
Juan Luis is an amazing singer, musician and songwriter, and his band, la 440, is a not any less amazingly talented group of musicians…
I didn’t have even any doubt about enjoying the wonderful Bachata and Merengue tunes, but to my surprise, there was some Cuban music present as well !

But before we get down to the Cuban connection, let’s get to know this fine musician a little bit, shall we? 🙂

Born Juan Luis Guerra Siejas, at Santo Domingo, Dominica Republic, at 1957, he is a son of a basketball player.
He studied literature and philosophy, but later went to study music theory and guitar at the national conservatory at Santo Domingo.
After graduation, Juan Luis attended the Berkley college of music at Boston (USA), where he accidentally met his future wife.
He graduated at 1982 with a diploma in Jazz composition, something which will effect his early career.

At 1984 he released his 1st album, “Soplando”, with a group of local musicians named “la 440”, after the standard guitar tuning of A440. This album was very much influenced by what Juan Luis learned at Berkley, and contains much Jazz, but also Merengue.

His next 2 albums, Mudanza y Acarreo (1985) and Mientras Mas Lo Pienso… Tu (1987), were quite successful, and got the band chosen to represent the Dominican Republic at the OTI (Organization of Iberoamerican Television) festival.

The big breakthrough came in 1990, with the release of his 4th, and maybe most famous, album, Ojala Que Lleva Cafe; Juan Luis Guerra y la 440 received international fame, with the title track holding the top spot of many charts in Latin America for many weeks… The bands’ 1st international tour also took place the same year.

Success kept coming with the release of “Bachata Rosa” at 1991, an album which would put Juan Luis on the international stage, and get him to tour not only South America & the Caribbean, but also Europe and the USA; This album, especially the title track, were also a major turning point for the whole genre of Bachata; Originating at the slums and brothels of Santo Domingo in the late 1960’s, until the early 1990’s this genre was considered crude and shameful, and very few mainstream musicians would play it at the Dominican Republic (and of course, it was very little known outside of it).
Juan Luis Guerra used the more traditional side of the genre, going back more to its origins, the Cuban Bolero, and made the music more romantic rather than sexually oriented, also slowing down the tempo a little.
Bachata Rosa topped Latin American charts and also music charts in the USA and Europe, bringing Bachata to the spotlight, making it mainstream at the Dominican Republic, and introducing it to the world. The album also won a Grammy award.

His 6th album, Arieto, was full of social criticism, with songs like “el costo de la vida”, which dealt with the rising cost of living and poor living conditions in Latin America, Si Saliera Petroleo, about oil shortages,  and also 2 tracks using the taino language, the language of one of the native Caribbean tribes, as a form of protest against the colonial past. 

The next album, Fogorate, was more traditional, focusing on the rural culture of the Dominican Republic, while Ni Es Lo Mismo, Ni Es Igual, released next won 3 Grammy awards, and made Merengue more popular world wide.

After that, in 2004, Juan Luis released an album which reflected his more religious side, Oara Ti, with the hit Las Avispas winning 2 billboard awards in 2005.
The album released at 2007, La Llave De Mi Corazon, won than 20 different music awards, including 5 Latin Grammy Awards, 6 Premios Casandra awards, 4 billboard Awards, 2 lo nuestro, and one Grammy. The same year Juan Luis won Person of the year award of the Latin recording academy, and also, at 2008, UNESCO artist for peace for his philanthropic efforts for children in need.

The latest album yet, A Son De Guerra, won another Latin Grammy at 2010, and the Bachata hit Bachata en Fukuoka topped many music charts in various parts of the world for a long while.

So, where is the Cuban connection, you might ask?
Well, 1st, I’m sure many of you are familiar with the classic “A Bayamo En Coche” by Adalberto Alvarez y Son 14.
So, as I discovered, Juan Luis and his band covered this wonderful song in a Merengue version at 1985, in the 1st album “Soplando”.
It’s not exactly like the original, but is quite enjoyable non the less.

The next string of Cuban silk running through the wonderful music of Juan Luis Guerra is the fact that many of his Bachata tunes draw much from the roots of the genre, which are found in Cuba, in the Bolero, a romantic, melodic and lyrical rhythm, originating in Santiago De Cuba during the late 1870’s.
Many of the songs written & composed by Juan Luis Guerra y la 440 are in clave, and the clave rhythm can be clearly heard, such as in the following tune, called “Coronita de Flores”:

Also, some of the songs are fusions of various Cuban rhythms, including Son, Bolero, Son Montuno and Mambo.
There are numerous examples of this, such as the following Bolero-Son Montuno called Señales de Humo:

And yet another beautiful Bolero-Son Montuno:

Even some of his pop songs feature Mambo and Son Montuno rhythms, like “La Llave de Mi Corazon”:

Las Pajaritos is very much a Son composition:

Some of his more modern songs, such as Si Saliera Petroleo, even come with a heavy Cuban flavour in the form of Guaguanco rhythms being featured for almost 1/3 of the song!

So, as you can see, and just as it is from a geographic stand point, the distance between Havana and Santo Domingo is not that great!


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