When bachata music appeared in the 1960s, it was the ugly stepsister to the Dominican Republic's sexier export merengue. Performed by poor rural musicians, bachata was considered low-class brothel music--telling tales of relationships with prostitutes gone sour. Most radio stations refused to play it.
"Bachata used to be for older people, but now younger people are listening to it--and not just Dominicans," says Rom�ntico, the lead singer of rising Latin pop sensations �ptimo and, at 27, the leader of the group.
�ptimo stopped in Philly last week to promote their debut album �ptimofdl--the "fdl" stands for "fo' da ladies." They began four years ago as a latin hip-hop trio in Washington, D.C. But eventually Rom�ntico and Neit, 24, moved to the Bronx, where they met 19-year-old MJ, whom Rom�ntico calls a bachatero completo.
�ptimo's club performances and MySpace page (www.myspace.com/optimofdl) caught the attention of Sony BMG, which happened to be looking for a new bachata group to sign. Since the signing, their first single "Con�ctate" has topped the charts in the Dominican Republic, and the video is on rotation on MTV Tr3s and other Stateside Latin stations.
The focus now, Rom�ntico says, is radio. Despite the city having the largest Dominican population in the country, New York radio remains a hard market to break into.
But the timing looks right for �ptimo, as they're part of a small but growing movement of young Dominican-Americans who are fusing the traditional bachata rhythm with a more pop-friendly R&B sound. It's a path carved by Aventura, the bachata boy band from the Bronx that broke ground with their 2002 crossover hit "Obsesi�n." �ptimo hopes "Con�ctate"--as well as their next single "Falta Amor"--will have the same success.
And while they love to see new fans discovering bachata music, �ptimo says their heart is in the Latino community. "We're very proud of who we are because we know where we came from," says Rom�ntico. And what about being Dominican gives them the greatest pleasure? "The food and the women," he answers without hesitation.