Because, like bolero and bachata singer André Veloz, I'm "so sick of love songs" too. I'm sick of the "I'll die without you" and "I'll hate you forever" songs. I'm sick of the "women are like this" and "men are like that" one-size-fits-all songs. I'm sick of the "that man is mine" snarkiness.
Not that there aren't plenty of wonderful and inspiring love songs that avoid those pitfalls. But I wish those songs were more common. And I especially wish more of those were more common in bachata and jíbaro music.
I wasn't thinking about that when I wrote the décimas del amargue that we will feature at our concert. Those songs were simply a purge and an exorcism that took place in décima poetic form.
So, for example, "Sin la soga y sin la cabra (a.k.a Qué bonito establo)" (which you can see here as an early punk duo version with güirera Sandra García Rivera... ummm... punk because I can hardly play 3 chords on the accordion) uses clichéd pastoral/folk/jíbaro images to weave together a humorous philosophical treatise-of-sorts on desire. Or so I think. Ha ha! You tell me if it works.
For the non-Spanish-speaking folks, here goes a rough translation of the first verse: "What a beautiful horse stable / Is the stable that you want / Natural and simple pleasures / How beautiful and picturesque / It all evoques in me a rustic or maybe boorish word / Since your other reddish-brown mare has been eating bitter stuff indeed / But she's feisty, running away and leaving you deep in the woods." Then the chorus, taken after a well-known saying, goes: "You are going to end up without the goat and without the rope."
Well, feel free to let me know if you think it works or not. (Still, I assure it will sound much better with the full band.) But in any case, I'm so excited to share love songs that hopefully will inspire even those who, like me, are sick of love songs.
I posted my Reason #1 a few weeks back. Here's my Reason #2:
Because we want to celebrate the inspiration that the early bachateros of the 1960s drew from Puerto Rican bolero singers and musicians.
Back in the 1960s, what we know today as bachata was simply called boleros. As bachata great Edilio Paredes told me in a recent interview: "Del bolero nació la bachata. Le pusieron bachata a nuestro bolero." (Bachata was born from bolero. They started calling our bolero bachata.)
Some of the artists that were most influential in the early development of bachata were Puerto Rican bolero singers (many of whom were jíbaro singers as well): Odilio González, Tommy Figueroa, Blanca Iris Villafañe, El Gallito de Manatí, Ramito and La Calandria, among them. This information comes not only from historians and aficionados of the genres, but also from bachata foundational artists like Paredes and Ramón Cordero.
Keep in mind that, according to many, the first person to record (Dominican) bachata was Juan Manuel Calderón in 1962 (or perhaps 61) with "Borracho de Amor" and "Condena."
So check what these Puerto Rican artists were doing bolero-wise around the same time:
* La Calandria
"Ese hombre," included in the 1962 album she recorded with Ramito titled Los dos gigantes, is a particularly wonderful example, since it features what later became the standard rhythmic way of playing the guitar in bachata. You can listen to it on iTunes here.
* Odilio González
"Celos sin motivos" is one of Odilio González's greatest hits and was recorded in an LP in 1963. (I have yet to determine if/when it came out earlier as a single.)
* Tommy Figueroa
Here's "Sonámbulo" included in Figueroa's 1962 album of the same name.
Here's Figueroa singing the classic bolero by Puerto Rican composer Don Felo titled "Madrigal." I had never heard this rendition by Figueroa until a few months back. It struck me how much like bachata it sounded. Yet the guitar style is not precisely what we have come to associate as bachata-esque. So why did it sound to me so much like bachata? Ahhhh... the plaintive and melodramatic way of singing! (Compare his style of singing to the much more subdued style of Quique and Tomás performing the same song.)
Ramón Cordero, who is one of my favorite bachateros in great part because he sings in that plaintive and melodramatic style, recently told me: "Mi artista favorito de esa epoca es Tommy Figueroa. Yo encontraba que sus melodías eran muy bonitas." Well no big surprise there, that Figueroa was a big influence for Cordero. But it was wonderful getting that confirmation straight from the legendary bachatero's mouth.
* Blanca Iris Villafañe
Mind you, I AM NOT making the argument, as some have, that "bachata really started in Puerto Rico." (These discussions get pretty heated and ridiculous. Check for example the comments below one of Odilio González's YouTube videos here and also this Univisión Forum conversation. Incidentally, my take on this all: these shrill and disrespectful debates intent on establishing strict "origins" and "authenticity" are TIRED.) I am simply pointing out and celebrating the influence that Puerto Rican bolero and jíbaro music artists had on the development of bachata. After all, that Puerto Rican influence is only one strand among many. Bolero singers from elsewhere in Latin America, such as Ecuador's Julio Jaramillo and Olimpo Cárdenas, had an enormous impact on early bachata as well. (Same goes for Puerto Rican jíbaro music's influence on bachata. It was influential, but so were Mexican rancheras and Colombian vallenatos, among other genres.)
So here's to celebrating the connections between bolero, bachata and música jíbara! Here's to celebrating the fluidity and borderlessness of music!
At the concert, I'll be leading the jíbaro/bachata vocals department. My magnificent sister Anabellie Rivera will be in charge of the bolero vocals department. Come through and... enjoy!
Because guitarist Edilio Paredes and singer Ramón Cordero, among other Dominican bachateros, have for decades been making gorgeous "amargue" (bitterness) songs deeply influenced by Puerto Rican jíbaro music and its characteristic poetic structure of décimas and decimillas. And we want to celebrate that.
Now compare that song to the seis fajardeño of jíbaro music, sung here by the incomparable Chuíto el de Bayamón.
Notice that aside from the similarities in the music being played by the string instruments, the verses in both examples are written as "décimas" (octosyllabic verses with rhyme scheme ABBA / ACCDDC). Keep in mind that the number of syllables a verse is considered to have varies slightly depending on which syllable is emphasized at the end of each verse. (See details here.)
Other songs by Ramón Cordero and Edilio Paredes that draw from the seis fajardeño:
(I just heard from my fellow music fiend Errol Montes-Pizarro that there was at least one prior jíbaro version recorded by Ananía(s) Sánchéz titled "La causa de mi muerte.)
Some bachatas by Cordero and Paredes, like "Amor del bueno," have been influenced by jíbaro music's aguinaldos and their decimilla poetic form.
Now compare that to the aguinaldo cagüeño of música jíbara.
And this song by Dominican bachatero Juan Bautista, though not written as a décima or decimilla, uses a riff common in the aguinaldo cagüeño between 00:11-00:18. (For comparison, check 00:09-00:18 in La Calandria's song posted above and 00:12-00:16 in Ramito, Moralito and Luisito's.)
Then there's bachatero El Chivo Sin Ley's namesake song which starts off its first eight verses with the structure of décimas but then veers off into something else.
According to the IASO record label site: "[El Chivo Sin Ley's" father was a master of decima [...]. He describes as a child having contests with his father in poetic improvisation. It is not surprising that Chivo's namesake song is actually a decima adapted to the bachata form."
It's important to point out that though Puerto Rican jíbaro music has influenced the use of décimas and decimillas in bachata, the Dominican Republic has its own centuries-old décimas tradition as well that bachata has also fed from.
I want to keep compiling examples of these música jíbara and bachata connections. Please share any other examples you might have!
Oh, and coming soon, Reason #2 for this concert/workshops project of "Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love": the rich American (as in North, South and Central American) tradition of boleros and how they influenced the development of the Puerto Rican "boleros jíbaros" and "música de parcela"and how those, in turn, influenced what eventually became known as bachata. Stay tuned!
Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love
December 8, 2013 | 3:30 PM
St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery Performance Space
131 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003
Cost: $10 suggested donation
Workshop (in English)
Décimas: Ancient Form, New Stories Workshop
December 7, 2013 | 3:00 PM
The Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library
Louis and Samuel J. Silberman School of Social Work
Hunter College | 2180 Third Avenue and 119th Street
New York, NY 10035
Workshop (in Spanish)
Décimas: Poesía antigua, nuevas historias
December 9, 2013 | 5:00 PM
Dominican Studies Institute, North Academic Center, Room 2/202
The City College of New York | 160 Convent Avenue, New York, NY 10035
RSVP: email@example.com or 646-266-7281
The 500 year-old Ibero-Afro-American traditions that nourish Puerto Rican jíbaro music and the Dominican Republic's bachata take an innovative, feminist twist under the twinkling eyes of Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, author and scholar, Raquel Z. Rivera. Raquel and her group Ojos de Sofía, will present her original compositions, written in the décima format and arranged by Puerto Rican guitarist/cuatrista Bryan Vargas and Dominican guitarist Yasser Tejeda, in a concert entitled Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love. The afternoon concert will take place on Sunday December 8, 3:30 PM at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery performance space in Manhattan’s East Village. Raquel, together with Dominican poet Dagoberto López, Bryan Vargas and Yasser Tejeda will also conduct educational talks/workshops on the décima form and its cultural and historical roots as well as its future at the Library of The Center for Puerto Rican Studies in East Harlem on Saturday December 7 at 3:00 PM and at the Dominican Studies Institute in Washington Heights on Monday December 9 at 5:00 PM.
Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love celebrates the connections between jíbaro music, renowned for its use of the décima poetic form and bachata, known as "music of bitterness", which also draws from the décima form. (The décima is structured around octosyllabic lines - ten per stanza - which rhyme ABBAACCDDC). Another point of connection between jíbaro music and bachata is that both have been profoundly influenced by bolero. That is where the “other songs of love” from the concert title come in—popular boleros interpreted by Anabellie Rivera. Jíbaro music and bachata are deeply interconnected Caribbean genres whose historical overlaps have become obscured by bachata's rise as an urban pop genre while jíbaro music has largely remained a staunchly traditionalist folk genre.
The project aims to highlight and give homage to the connections between these two genres and the communities that developed them, while gently subverting and expanding upon the tradition. Through creative arrangements and quirky lyrics Ojos de Sofía playfully acknowledge as they challenge folkloric and popular music's often sexist and clichéd approaches to love and loss. Rivera's lyrics are written from a humorous feminist perspective that promotes feminine solidarity while eschewing the blame placed on all men (or women) for the sins of the one heartbreaker.
By pulling the décima from its folkloric margins Rivera and Ojos de Sofía make it relevant to World and Latin popular music audiences of all ethnicities. In celebrating the cultural similarities between Puerto Rican and Dominican communities that often find themselves at odds, they offer a new dialogue. In presenting Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love they introduce a new and contemporary voice to a storied music form.
Raquel is generally available for interviews by phone or in person (solo or with Ojos de Sofía) in the greater New York City area November 30 - December 15, 2013. (Earlier live interview dates possible)
For more information please contact Tom Frouge: 505.771.3166 / firstname.lastname@example.org
The concert and workshops are made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Additional support provided by Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Dominican Studies Institute, La Casa de la Herencia Cultural Puertorriqueña, Center for Traditional Music and Dance, City Lore, and Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the City College of New York.