A backyard party

Joan Soriano brings Bachata to Dayton

The duke of Bachata, Joan Soriano; photo: iASO records

By Tim Smith

Travel the world, and you’ll discover many variations on traditional native music. One such form is Bachata, which is defined as a hybrid of Latin American music with European, Indigenous, and African musical elements. It originated in the Dominican Republic in the early 20th century. One of the leading modern proponents of Bachata is Joan Soriano, a Dominican native, will be bringing his show, “The Duke of Bachata,” to the University of Dayton on Oct. 10.

Joan Soriano was born in the rural countryside near Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. As a teenager, he fashioned his first guitar from a tin can and fishing line, but now plays steel string Bachata with equal parts romance and grit. The Afro-infused rhythm that permeates his music has made him a favorite among dancers. He is the star of Adam Taub’s new documentary, “The Duke of Bachata,” and was featured in Alex Wolfe’s documentary, “Santo Domingo Blues,” as well as being featured on “The Rough Guide’s Bachata” compilation. He has performed throughout North America and Europe, and has a number of albums to his credit.

“My parents had the radio on all the time,” Soriano says. “My siblings and I grew up listening to Bachata and Merengue and we only had the one radio in the house. Nowadays, children and young adults carry their own portable music players in their pockets and can listen to whatever they want. For me, that was the music that I listened to, and therefore the music that I loved and liked to play. We grew up on a poor farm, and we worked hard in the field outside when it was very hot sometimes. That music on the radio lifted our spirits, and that’s the way I’ve always remembered it.”

The predecessors of Bachata are Bolero and Son. The original term used to name the genre was amargue (“bitterness”, “bitter music”, or “blues music”). The music spawned a form of dance, also called Bachata. It is a sensual, exotic mix of traditional Latin dance and Bolero. During much of its history, Bachata was disregarded by the Dominican elite and associated with rural underdevelopment and crime. In the ‘90s, however, Bachata’s appeal grew and today it is one of the most popular styles of Latin music, even overtaking Salsa and Merengue in many Latin American dance halls. It has also established a fan base in the United States.

“Bachata has a big following in the States, but I’m not sure exactly why,” Soriano says. “All I can say is that when we play someplace we haven’t been before, the audience has welcomed us and cheered for us. I do believe that an audience will react to the way an artist plays. We like to play our songs with energy and gusto, all of us… each member of the band does. I think they like our music because we play with heart and feeling, so all that love and energy comes back to us, and fuels us on stage. I can’t tell you if it’s the same for people who don’t listen to us live for the first time, but I imagine that it is different.”

Although he has found international success with Bachata, Soriano admits to an interest in other musical genres and artists.

“I only play and perform Bachata, but I do like listening to all kinds of music,” he says. “I’ve always liked Michael Jackson, and also the song Hotel California by The Eagles. That song has a cool Latin vibe, and I like how it tells a story and it builds up. One can almost split Hotel California into several ‘parts’ or ‘acts’ like a theatre play. Occasionally, I have wondered what a Bachata like that would sound like, but Bachata is not like Hotel California. I mean, people don’t dance to Hotel California. It’s a song that you listen to but not dance to. Our listeners like to dance to our songs, and they often dance during our shows.”

Soriano and his group have a busy schedule this fall, designed to introduce more people to the music they love.

“I think we have about ten concerts lined up for the first half of October,” he says. “We are starting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I’m very excited to play Dayton. We were in Cleveland last July and we had a great time. The crowd liked us very much and the concert promoters treated us very nicely, so I look forward to playing Ohio again.”

While Bachata has begun to develop universal appreciation, Soriano is at a loss to explain its appeal.

“I don’t know why, to be honest,” he says. “I can tell you why I like it, but not why other people like it. I think it’s a personal choice. We’ve found many fans who absolutely love it, but to some people Bachata is boring, and I have heard them saying that with me present. There’s nothing we can do about it, I’m afraid. I don’t feel like I can please everybody with our music, nor do I want to. I will always go out on stage and perform the music I love the most and be very thankful for the fans who like the genre, and come to our shows leaving happier than ever. That is our mission!”

“Joan Soriano: The Duke of Bachata” will be presented at the University of Dayton’s Boll Theatre, 300 College Park, Dayton on Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $18.00 for general admission, and $15.00 for seniors. For tickets and more information, call 937.229.2545, or visit UDayton.edu/ArtsSciences/ArtsLive.com, or Facebook.com/ArtsLiveDdayton.

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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