Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater brought together several architect luminaries of Caribbean Latino music—in particular, the explosively popular style known as bachata and the current bachata-fusion sound—for the latest edition of BMI’s How I Wrote That Song panel series. This rare opportunity for aspiring music makers and fans to connect with established professionals was hosted by model and La Mega FM radio personality Jaylah Sandoval, talking shop with songwriter-producers Milton Johan Restituyo and Juan Abreu (better known by Alcover & Xtassy), Joell Jaquez and Mickey Then (a.k.a. 24 Horas), as well as Pedro “sP” Polanco.
Bachata first emerged from its Afro-Latino roots in the 20th century countryside of the Dominican Republic, evolving into what’s become a major “urban” scene in the U.S., led by many New York- and Miami-residing Dominicans (and other Caribbean Latinos). The panelists credited the band Aventura for helping to transform what was once a more local island music form into an international sensation. Artists like Don Omar, Toby Love and Romeo Santos sell out everything from nightclubs to stadium shows, scoring Grammy nominations and myriad awards.
No more is bachata a simple stepchild to salsa or its fellow-Dominican precursor, merengue. In fact, superstar Don Omar’s current hit, “Pura Vida” (written and produced by Alcover and Xtassy) was noted as one of this year’s official anthems for the World Cup. Favorited by fans from New York to Nigeria to Nicaragua and beyond, the whole world is now chanting along with bachateros: “Vida, pura vida!/La vida es una copa, y se bebe, gota a gota, hasta el final/Mira a tú alrededor/Todos apostando por ti!” (“Life, pure life/Life is a cup and, drop by drop, it’s drunk until the end/Look around, everyone is betting on you!”) It’s also an apt theme for the panelists’ own experiences in the entertainment field.
In an industry just as competitive as professional sports, the panelists shared the typical trials and tribulations of making it in the music business, including their use of social media for self-promotion back before major music and media companies took notice. Like the panel itself, the scene is very male-dominated, though the speakers made a point of praising female performers like Leslie Grace and Natti Natasha, who’ve persevered and gained a wide following among fans—much as with their counterparts in hip-hop music to this day.
Alas, the immigrant sons on this stage admitted that at times the most challenging supporters attract—even as they sell millions of songs throughout the world—can be their own parents, for whom the idea of “work” involved doing something in business, something physical, tangible. They advised aspiring artists in the audience to make their families feel involved in the creative process, so they can taste the experience, their process and struggle in the reach for the stars (even if only vicariously).
Alas, the only sure way to show them you’ve really made it, revealed Xtassy, may be to get that seal of approval from Don Francisco, the legendary host of the longest-running TV variety series in the world, Latin America’s Sábado Gigante.—Cristina Verán