Cultura y conciencia

Juan Luis Guerra: Unparalleled Ingenuity

Nelson Santana

Biography of Juan Luis Guerra

By Vivian Guerrero

June 21, 2010

Considered to be the most prolific person in his trade by musicologists, Juan Luis Guerra is a multifaceted Dominican composer, producer, vocalist and leader of an orchestra. Guerra was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on June 7, 195[_].  He is one of the most successful musicians of Latino descent[1] and an accomplished interpreter of bachata and merengue music, two genres native to his homeland. He uses his music to keep his audience abreast about the social and political situation in his native land and Latin America.

 Guerra studied philosophy and literature at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo and afterward studied guitar and music theory at El Conservatorio Nacional de Música de Santo Domingo. He then traveled to the United States where he continued his music studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston, undertaking courses in jazz, his preferred genre at the time.[2] Guerra began to interpret merengue in 1985 once he and his group, 440, signed with Karen Records. Though he was more interested in jazz, he began to compose and interpret merengue as it was the more marketable and proved to be the more profitable of the two.

Guerra’s music knowledge allows him to compose a merengue that is more refined and compounded than other artists / interpreters of that genre. The themes of his songs also differentiate him from other interpreters. His songs include themes such as the current societal status of Dominican citizens. In “Visa para un sueño” Guerra recounts a story that rings true for many Dominicans, in which he explains how many Dominicans struggle to obtain an American visa to allow them to travel to the United States.[3]

Guerra had a promising career from the moment he began recording, however it was not until the successful smash hit “Ojala que llueva café” that he became a reputable artist by having reached international stardom.  At the same time “Ojala que llueva café” ‘refined’ merengue. [4]

In addition to merengue, Guerra also interprets bachata, another popular Dominican music genre. Bachata’s popularity began its rise in the 1970s. Bachata is associated with the barrio and the rural culture, and is also considered by some to be related to other Cuban genres.

In 1989 Guerra composed a jingle for a commercial commissioned by Barceló Company which became an instant hit. When he realized the public’s positive response and liking to his composition, he decided to compose a full song – one of his biggest hits to date – titled “Como Abeja Al Panal”(“As a Bee to the Hive.)

Juan Luis Guerra is proud of the genres he interprets. He is proud to be Dominican and also acknowledges his African, European and Taíno roots. In fact, when the origins of merengue were challenged to the point where many neglected the African influence, Guerra took a stand and stressed the importance of Africa in the development of merengue and ensured that all understood the African influence.  He manifested: ‘Unequivocally, you can’t take merengue out of Africa. No matter how much you may want to, you can’t take merengue out of Africa. Forget it-the rhythms are African, period. Of course there are these influences, which are melodic: the melodies are European, the harmony, just like in jazz.’  Even though his music did not include authentic African instruments, nonetheless today’s Dominican instruments like the tambora and congas have their roots in Africa and Guerra’s music and lyrics are heavily influenced by Afro-Dominicans. This is best exemplified in the songs, “A Pedir Su Mano” and “Guavaberry.”[5]

Juan Luis Guerra is a composer, artist, musician, interpreter, arranger, poet, producer who always sends a positive message to his public. He is a role-model who inspires others around him. The impact Juan Luis Guerra has left on Dominican music is unparalleled any other. For Dominicans worldwide it is a privilege and honor to have him represent them internationally.


[1]  Waxer, Lise . "Grove Music Online." (accessed october 8, 2009).


[2]  Waxer, Lise . "Grove Music Online." (accessed october 8, 2009).

[3] Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 204.

[4]  Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 204.


[5]  Paul Austerlitz, Merengue:  Dominican Music and Dominican Identity(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995), 110.




Pacini Hernandez, Deborah. Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular.

                         Music. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Philadelphia:

                          Temple University Press, 1995.

Waxer, Lise . "Grove Music Online."


                      luis+guerra&se arch=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit (accessed october 8,