Editor’s Note: This is the latest post in our new series introducing the common genres of Latin music you’ll hear around the city.
If you’ve been in Medellín for a while, then you definitely would have come across bachata.
Aside from salsa, bachata is one of the most popular genres in Colombia’s second biggest city and is heard in most of the bars.
Bachata originated from the rural regions of the Dominican Republic back in the 1960s and was actually deemed socially unacceptable for twenty years. It was considered the dance of the underclass, so songs never received any airplay or were allowed to be sold in record stores.
The music is romantic and often telling the story of a man and women in love.
It’s traditionally played with a güira – a percussion instrument which looks like a large cheese grater with a handle (you may have seen the musicians in Parque Lleras trying to serenade you carrying one of these).
The sound is really distinctive with a high pitch, tinny effect. You’ll also find guitars and bongos accompanying it.
How to Dance Bachata
Bachata is danced closer to your partner than salsa and is more sensual. Based on four beats, what makes it so different is its hip movement on the last beat of four.
The man places his right hand on the lady’s shoulder blade whilst you hold hands in a ballroom hold with the man making a ‘v’ and the lady resting her hand in it, keeping their hands up.
Men start with the left foot and girls with the right. Mirroring each other you both step to the side for three steps then tap (step together, step, tap).
The basic moves are easy to grasp and because bachata is not very structured, you can practically go wherever you want (unless you have limited space on a dance floor) and as long as you raise your hip on the fourth beat, you can go back and forth, around in a circle or make any moves you like in-between.
If you want to make it really raunchy, just get closer together in a close embrace for more of a grinding movement or flick your leg for a more ballroom approach.
With no rules, bachata is one of the most versatile dances in Colombia.
Popular Bachata Singers
If you were anywhere in the city around the Feria de las Flores then you would have seen the posters for this man: Romeo Santos – the king of bachata.
Known for his most famous single, Propuesta Indecente, Romeo Santos is the former lead singer of bachata band Aventura. When they broke up, he quickly became an international star as a solo artist, selling out the same stadiums as Jay Z and Beyonce.
Rumor has it he’ll be making an appearance alongside Vin Diesel in “Fast and Furious 7” – not bad for a bachata singer.
Traditionally, Luis Segura was acclaimed as “the father of Bachata,” but the first ever bachata songs were recorded back in May 1962 by José Manuel Calderón.
Back then the music was known as Bolero Campesino and accompanied by an acoustic guitar.
It was only in 1992 that bachata began gaining mainstream popularity, thanks to Juan Luis Guerra who won a Grammy for his Bachata Rosa album, thus propelling bachata into the international limelight.
As well as Propuesta Indecente by Romeo Santos, another famous bachata song is “Obsession” by Aventura, the group from New York City where Romeo Santos got his start.
Other popular singers are Luis Vargas and Antony Santos (not to be confused with “Anthony Romeo Santos”).
Nowadays you can find modern cover versions like Karlos Rose’s rendition of Bruno Mars “Just the Way You Are,” “Cherish the Love” by La Krema as well as Leslie Grace’s version of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”
There’s even a bachata version of “Stand By Me” by Prince Royce. You can practically re-make any song with a bachata beat.
Where to Learn Bachata
If you’re new to bachata and want to learn the moves before taking it to a club, you can sign up for private lessons at a studio like Santo Baile.
For group lessons, Dancefree holds Bachata Los Martes every Tuesday, with the first class free for non-members. The classes are held from 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Betty House Discoteca at Calle 10A #40-27, Poblado.
Where to Hear and Dance Bachata
While you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bachata-specific bar in the city, the most popular songs are part of the regular rotations at most bars and crossover clubs.
It’s not as dominant as salsa or reggaeton, so you may only hear one bachata song for every three or four salsa, but it’ll be enough to get you up and dancing.
If you’re ready to get started, check out Dancefree’s new Tuesday night party at Betty House and the Medellín Living nightlife directory for many more discotecas playing the bachata beat.
Additional posts in this series include: