Lucid Culture


The Bachata Roja Legends Make a Memorable US Debut

In their first-ever American performance, the Dominican Republic’s Bachata Roja Legends put on a party worthy of their legendary status. The Queens Theatre in the Park, out back of the tennis stadium, filled up slowly. Although from the time the band took the stage it was clear that they had come to conquer, the audience wasn’t on their feet and dancing until about halfway through. But there was no stopping anyone after that.


Bachata fans can skip down a paragraph: for those who aren’t familiar with the style, today’s bachata is typically a sort of Dominican version of early reggae or rocksteady, midtempo romantic ballads featuring ringing, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and often deliciously melodic bass. The Bachata Roja Legends go way back to an era when, just like American jazz, bachata was considered low-class and sordid. Evolving in the late 50s and 60s, classic bachata is driven by the same ringing guitar, but with a more acoustic feel and a mishmash of guaracha, bolero, merengue, Cuban son, Mexican border ballads and even a little American country influence (the most powerful country radio stations in Florida reached the Dominican, and musicians were avidly listening). In fact, the show began with young hotshot guitarist/singer Joan Soriano a.k.a. “El Duque” playing a loping, country beat. This music is incredibly fun, fascinating and funny (if you listen closely: you won’t learn Dominican slang in high school Spanish class), something that with a little publicity could become as popular as delta blues or traditional Irish music.


The Legends’ not-so-secret weapon is guitarist Edilio Paredes, who’s something akin to the Dominican Ernie Ranglin if a thousand times more intense. Over the past several decades, he’s played on literally thousands of tracks, many of them iconic. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that in many ways he’s as responsible for shaping the sound of bachata as any other single musician, perhaps more. Expertly fingerpicking his guitar, he spun off one lightning run after another along with innumerable catchy, arpeggiated hooks and fiery tremolo-picked passages, like an acoustic Dick Dale. Even though he must have played much of this material many times over, he lit into the songs with a good-natured intensity as if he’d just written them. His son Samuel played bass, showing remarkable restraint. While much of the melody in modern bachata is often played by the bass, in the old stuff it isn’t, so the younger Paredes hung back with the two percussionists and swung through the set’s often vertigo-inducing tempo shifts and time changes. Soriano only got one solo all night long, but made the most of it, Edilio Paredes looking on and grinning approvingly.


The show built slowly, Soriano handling vocals, then passing the torch to a bandmate whose dry sense of humor proved an apt vehicle for the songs’ often ribald, pun-laden subject matter: drinking, raising hell and chasing women, for the most part. Then, after the crowd was up and on their feet, they brought up legendary frontman El Chivo Sin Ley (the Outlaw Goat, AKA Isidro Cabrera Orlando, a veteran who takes his nom de plume from the title of his huge 1972 hit, a defiant, macho number). Singing in a powerful baritone that morphed into a somewhat menacing, breathless rasp when he went up the scale, he electrified the audience, from his first number about a young guy struggling to get by in the big city, to the show’s closer, a delirious, ecstatic drinking anthem titled whose title translated as Lots of Rum, Lots of Beer. Reaching the middle of the song, El Chivo reached out to dance with one of the two women singing backup, but she backed away: perhaps his reputation precedes him. About half of the remarkably multicultural crowd sang along, the rest bobbing and swaying in their seats. It’s hard to imagine another equally important, landmark event in the history of music in New York being this much fun.

August 4, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

1 Comment »

  1. Hey! I was at the concert. It was amazing. I just hope they come back again to perform in NY.

    Comment by Henry | August 8, 2008 | Reply

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