Juan Luis Guerra on New Sounds, New Album & Eternal Inspiration of Wife Nora

Juan Luis Guerra
Jochy Fersobe

Juan Luis Guerra

'Todo Tiene Su Hora' is out this week.

Once upon a time, Juan Luis Guerra was a maverick star from the Dominican Republic who took bachata -- the most popular of rhythms from his home country -- and made it international.

Thirty years later, bachata dominates the Billboard charts and dance floors worldwide, and Guerra, 57, has plenty of company -- from Romeo Santos to Prince Royce -- in the genre. But he still remains the trailblazer who fused the genre in unimaginable ways to give it broad appeal.

Juan Luis Guerra Goes to No. 1 on Tropical Airplay Chart

Following the release of his 12th studio album, Todo Tiene Su Hora (Everything Has Its Time), Guerra reflects on his "constant search for new sounds and different proposals" and on the lasting influence of his wife Nora, his eternal muse.

Describe this album for me.
I always seek excellence and do everything I can to achieve that. I did the same in this album. I sing to society, to our political system here in the Dominican Republic. I sing to the Lord Jesus in "El Capitan" (The Captain). But it's a romantic album above all else. And all the love songs are for my wife, Nora.

On the subject of Nora, your eternal muse, does she give you opinions during the recording process?
Oh yes. Sometimes we agree, sometimes not. But I play all the demos for her, and she listens and we don’t record until she has her say. I fix things if possible. But I do listen to her and I do pay attention to her advice. I show her everything before we record.

This is your first album under the newly fused Capitol Latin/UMLE label. Considering it was a kind of new beginning, did you have a plan?
My plan is always to show the moment. I had these compositions and I began to orchestrate them and arrange them. The rule is to be innovative. I wanted different sounds, a new proposal.

For example?
For example, the title track is a merengue that deals with a very specific situation [a broken heart] and a solution in terms of the lyrics. But musically speaking, it's a very broad merengue. We worked it with strings and French horn -- instruments that are used for classical music. And from that template, we began to work all sorts or orchestrations. We have bachatas performed with string quartet and clarinet.

One of those is "Muchachita Linda" (Pretty Girl), which you dedicated to your daughter Paulina.
Yes, it's the first song I write for her. I recorded with an American string quartet, and the solo instrument was the clarinet. And it brings a sublime romantic sound to the mix. I think we were looking for solutions and we found many instruments that provided them.

First single "Tus Besos" (Your Kisses), which has spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Latin Airplay chart, also has an unusual instrumentation…
That orchestration is more from the 1950s, so we used an E flat trumpet. We wanted it to sound different, so we went with doo-wop and tubular bells and 12-string guitars. More like the Beatles than anything else.

Despite all the use of classical instrumentation, your only duet in the album -- "De Moca a París" -- is with Johnny Ventura, who is an icon of traditional merengue. Why him?
Johnny is the leading popular figure of the Dominican Republic, and I had wanted to do a duet with him for a long time. We had this perico ripiao [traditional merengue], and it was perfect for him. We are born listening to the music of Johnny Ventura. He accepted my invitation and came to my home to record.

When you first started to record, few people outside the Dominican Republic even knew what bachata was. Now, of course, it's everywhere thanks to you and now to people like Romeo Santos. What do you think of this bachata craze?
I think it benefits the genre, and their work has been important. I did my part in 1992 when I made bachata well known. But they continued that. It's a plus for me. And although the sound and the style is different, they're simply different manifestations of bachata. Theirs is more pop and their use of the guitar is more marked. But both are bachata. I'm very pleased to see acts like Romeo support bachata around the world.

Why is bachata so very popular around the world?
It’' a romantic bolero from the Caribbean. It's a very attractive rhythm. These are'’t genres that go out of style, they simply get established. Of course, at some point something else may claim the top spots. It's cyclical.

You always produce your own albums, but in 2012 you also produced Juanes' MTV Unplugged. Did you like that role?
I loved working with Juanes. He's so respectful and listens to every word you say. I'd like to produce more with other friends. Juanes was the first on the list. 

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