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Joan Soriano: The Duke Of Bachata

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Joan Soriano: The Duke Of Bachata

Joan Soriano: The Duke Of Bachata

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

We turn now to an art form made popular by Haiti's neighbor to the east, the Dominican Republic. The guitar-based music known as bachata was born in the poor Dominican neighborhoods. When it emerged from the shadows in the 1960s, many Dominicans derided the earthy music as lower class.

But now, bachata is one of the Caribbean's most popular musical genres, and it has a new star, 36-year old Joan Soriano. His debut CD is called "El Duque de la Bachata," the Duke of Bachata, and Banning Eyre has our review.

(Soundbite of music)

BANNING EYRE: That clean, feathery guitar sound punching out rhythmic lines is a bachata signature. And it was guitar playing like this that got Joan Soriano work as a session musician when he came to Santa Domingo from the countryside at age 13.

Soriano also had a great voice and charisma that threatened to upstage the stars he accompanied. It was just a matter of time before this talented youngster seized the limelight.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOAN SORIANO: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Another bachata signature is the mood of longing and melancholy in these songs. Dominicans call it amargue, literally bitterness, but there's an element of cathartic sweetness there, too. Songs talk of unrequited love, the weight of poverty, and the sadness of separation from loved ones.

This song, "Solo Tu" laments a lover's betrayal.

(Soundbite of song, "Solo Tu")

Mr. SORIANO: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Bachata is all about transcending sadness. And the rundown neighborhood of Villa Mella, where Soriano lives, is filled with hopeful bachateros and their music. Soriano is the seventh of 15 kids. He abandoned school and the farming life his father envisioned for him to make his way as a musician.

The Duke of Bachata is getting his shot at last, but he still lives in a house with no running water and struggles to support his wife and son.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SORIANO: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: The CD "El Duque de la Bachata" is full of playful cautionary tales that urge listeners to live wise, virtuous lives despite their circumstances. Among the bachatas and merengues here is one song that draws from old African religion.

"Aye Belie" praises Belie Belcan, who corresponds to the Catholic Saint Michael, but also the Vodu deity Ogun. It's a nod to the deep history and cultural continuity that flows through this giddy, sorrowful, New World music.

(Soundbite of song, "Aye Belie")

Mr. SORIANO: (Singing in foreign language):

KELLY: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. He reviewed "El Duque de la Bachata" by Joan Soriano

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