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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Romeo Santos returns to his roots on ‘Utopia’

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Claire Kopischke | The Observer
Claire Kopischke | The Observer


The king is back.

But this time, he’s not alone. Romeo Santos teamed up with an impressive array of well-known bachateros — Frank Reyes, Luis Vargas, Elvis Martinez and more — on his latest release, “Utopia.” Every track on the 12-song album is a collaboration with an artist Santos grew up admiring. The end product is a natural, powerful homage to traditional bachata and Santos’ Dominican roots.

When it comes to the album’s intent, Santos leaves nothing up to interpretation. Before the first full-length song is a 40-second preface titled “Soy Dominicano.” In its opening lyrics, Santos sings, “Dominicano soy / De mis raíces yo no voy a olvidarme” (“Dominican I am / Of my roots I’m not going to forget”). He makes clear that this album is dedicated to the music that he grew up listening to and loving — and that he eventually made mainstream.

The album as a whole foregrounds bachata and its relaxed, danceable rhythms. Bachata — music and dance — originated in rural neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic and was once deemed too vulgar to be listened to by the Dominican elite. Its reception has since changed, but bachata’s embellished, emotional singing and songs that tell stories of love and heartbreak remain the same. “Payasos,” a collaboration with Frank Reyes, one of Latin America’s best-known bachata artists, captures those feelings of love and longing perfectly. The chorus’ closing line features Santos beginning and Reyes finishing the lyric “Somos dos payasos en un circo de amor” (“We are two clowns in a circus of love”).

A similar camaraderie in the face of heartbreak is found among the syncopated guitar and traditional bongos on “Los Últimos.” Santos and Luis Vargas mourn their mutual rejection and find themselves joined in an unlikely friendship by the fact that they “[Comparten] las penas, la desgracia y condena / De ser los finalistas que engaño la Morena” (“Share the penalties, misfortune and condemnation / Of being the finalists that the brunette deceived”).

The highlight of the album, though, is Aventura’s reunion on “Inmortal.” The New York-based bachata foursome — comprised of Anthony “Romeo” Santos, Lenny Santos, Max Santos and Henry Santos Jeter — made its mark mixing traditional Dominican music with the sounds of rhythm and blues and hip-hop. In the process, the group brought bachata to the mainstream and earned itself a dedicated following, a following that’s waited almost 10 years for a new song.

Santos teased his Instagram followers with the prospect of an Aventura reunion, though it all seemed to be a cruel April Fools’ Day joke. He posted a picture of “Inmortal” cover art and the caption “Nuevo sencillo de Aventura esta noche a las 9PM EST” (“New single from Aventura at 9PM EST”). When 9 p.m. passed, fans were disappointed; however, they didn’t have to wait long for the real release of “Inmortal.” The song came out exactly 24 hours after Santos said it would.

Was it worth a nearly 10-year wait? Probably not. But “Inmortal” is made in true Aventura fashion, with sweeping guitar riffs and Santos’ soft, sirenic vocals. The lyrics are at times cringe-inducingly dramatic, but in the perfectly absurd way that a telenovela is cringe-inducingly dramatic. Sometimes that’s the only way to talk about eternal, immortal love.

Whether you listen to the lyrics or not — understand the lyrics or not — “Utopia” is a landmark album in the history of bachata music. Santos is keeping the music that made him who he is today alive one song at a time.

 

Artist: Romeo Santos

Album: “Utopia”

Label: Sony Music Latin

Favorite Tracks: “Canalla,” “Millonario”

If you like: Aventura, Prince Royce

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5