Bachata music mirrors the history of hip-hop in some respects. In bachata’s infancy it was looked down upon by the mainstream masses due to its racy and machismo tinged lyrics, and low socioeconomic culture from which it was rooted. In 1992, Juan Luis Guerra received a Grammy for his album Bachata Rosa, and he did for bachata, what Run DMC did for rap; he moved bachata towards being a respected genre.
Bachata music has had a resurgence in the dance community thanks to the likes of Guerra, Aventura and Romeo Santos, Antony Santos, Toby Love, and a handful of other artists. However, if historical inventory is taken on the genres most popular songs and groups you would find that female artists are rarely in the spotlight.
Leslie Grace, Jessy Rose, and Alexandra Cabrera of Monchy Y Alexandra would be counted as a few of the most significant female artists today, while Melida Rodriguez and Aridia Ventura are note-able bachateras from the 60’s through 80’s. There are a few other women who have experienced mild success, but considering bachata has been recorded since 1962, the list is alarmingly scarce.
Andre Veloz is an aspiring bachatera hoping to help woman change this unfortunate inequality.
She was born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, but raised in the birthplace of bachata, the Dominican Republic. Her first memories of bachata paint a classic portrait of life in the D.R, and it’s connection to the music. While living in Ambar, a rural area of Puerto Plata, in the late 1980s, she remembers hearing bachata as a young child while taking showers in the backyard using a bucket filled with water. Her grandmother was a talented dancer and was often spotted by Andre dancing to bachata. The music was very prevalent in the community even if the people didn’t like to admit it due to its negative connotation in the culture.
These experiences coupled with her singing talents and love for the music led Andre to pursuit a career as a bachatera. Andre began singing as a very young child and admits she was a little bossy with her talent.
Andre – My mother says I first sang before talking. As a little kid many people would ask me to take a break so I would stop singing. I remember performing shows in preschool and forcing the kids to watch me.
Her first performances were as a teenager covering rock standards in local clubs. In 2001 she moved to New York because she was ready to move forward with her music and pursue singing bachata. She met a fellow musician who was able to get her gigs in restaurants and local festivals. Andre noticed an interesting paradox. She only sang in English while in the Dominican, and only in Spanish in the USA because that’s what the audience wanted hear. To support her music career Andre teaches in the NYC school system working with special needs children, and at night she works as a house keeper.
When not working, Andre dedicates her time to her music and overcoming what she calls a “glass cieling” for woman in the bachata. Male dominance in the music industry, gender bias against woman, the machismo vibe present in early bachata songs, and other cultural factors are at the root of the issue. She cites Celia Cruz, and Las Chicas del Can as two of her musical inspirations. She admired Celia not only because of her immense vocal talent, but her ability to reinvent herself without compromising her values.
Andre – “Late in her career she released ‘La Negra Tiene Tumbao” (2002). At that time she was much older (age 76) and she came back with a hit. She wore her colorful pelucas (wigs) and was looking all fabulous. There were few popular latina woman at that point.”
Andre feels that since the music industry is dominated by males, they serve as gatekeepers for trend setting and what gets promoted. She recalls an instance in which a male record label owner in the Dominican wouldn’t hire her strictly because she was a woman.
Andre – It’s a vicious circle. The industry continues to hire more men and the female artists basically become trends to be objectified. I don’t want to have to sing in little clothes and dance. I have nothing against dancing, but I’m a singer. There are many awesome woman out there who should be respected for their talents. I respect Shakira because I know even before becoming a pop-star she was a musician. She’s not my favorite singer, but she is a brilliant musician.
As an aside, Shakira can play the harmonica, guitar, drums, and various percussion instruments.
Andre’s primary focus is bachata, but she is also a big fan of jazz music and Ella Fitzgerald is another one of her musical influences. She periodically performs with local NYC musicians to give her vocal take on classic songs.
Andre acknowledges that its going to take a lot of money coupled with immense talent for a solo female singer to break through into the bachata mainstream and, more importantly, stay consistently relevant. She noted that even the Latin Grammy nominated Leslie Grace with her youthful beauty, class, and incredible voice has a large hill to climb despite having industry heavy weight Sergio George and his award winning label, Top Stop Music, backing her.
Andre – With Leslie, Sergio went with the same magical formula he had with Prince Royce (Stand By Me) of taking a 60s American song and turning it into a bachata. In my opinion, I would bet on a different kind of songs. It would be less of the love songs and more about empowering woman.
Andre, accompanied by the band Rumores, released an EP entitled ‘Cabare Bachata’ in August, 2014. The project was a long time coming and contains material dating back to 2003. She loves the old school Bachata, but Andre realizes that she has to provide her audience with a mix of old and new styles. When crafting lyrics, she says her inspiration is typically drawn from two topics.
Andre – Sex and power. And power is about sex. I’m not talking about love. I go beyond that. My songs are not very typical and I’m proud of that. One of my new songs is about a romance between a monkey and a lioness. It’s a different kind of dynamic and bachata song.
Andre believes its important to inspire woman through music and her own struggles to make it. One of her upcoming songs, “El Minor”, is about a woman telling a man she has the power to choose.
Andre – I want to show the younger girls who listen to my music that you can go beyond the standard love songs. I think I have something important to say, and I hope that I can reach some ears…I want to leave a legacy that a woman can survive in this industry and genre, and I want women to keep striving for that. It is not easy.
Andre has big dreams and lofty goals despite the challenges presented by the music industry. She would like to work with Romeo Santos someday because of his talent and influence, and she is confident that she will. Her favorite female bachata artists are Melida Rodriguez and Alexandra Cabrera, and she hopes to help build upon the foundation they’ve set for woman in the genre.
She noted an interesting trend she’s seen in bachata music. A trend that even her mother has often suggested she may want to follow: to partner up with a male and form a duo like Monchy Y Alexandra (now Nathalia) or Carlos Y Alejandra. Andre prefers to work alone.
Andre – I want to do music myself. My songs are written for women and for me. I’m a singer-songwriter. I can do this on my own. I don’t think my mother gets it. I just keep rolling my eyes.
Andre has come a long way since her first performances as a teenager covering rock standards in the Dominican, but she acknowledges the music she loves, bachata, still has quite a ways to go.
Andre – I love my people. I’m Dominican, but we are a tough crowd to please. Even in New York and in the Dominican, if you want to sing bachata you can lose an opportunity for a gig. They will want you to sing another genre.
Please keep singing Andre. It’s time for this generation of bachateras to change history. Check out Andre and Rumores latest video. Its a cover of “La Sufrida” (Yo Soy Mala) made famous by one of the early influential bachateras, Melida Rodriguez.
Ironically, one of the great historians of bachata is a woman named Deborah Pacini Hernandez. She has written a book entitled, “Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music”. If you’re interested in learning more about the roots and origins of bachata then definitely check it out.