By Jacob Katel
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By Jacob Katel
Fresh from a two-year stint at Berklee College in Boston, where he fell hard for the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, Juan Luis Guerra went with his heart. Fixated by jazz arrangements, the then-unknown Guerra decided to splash the form's rhythms all over Soplando, his first album since heading back to his native Santo Domingo in 1985.
The decision would nearly forever silence a voice that today stands as one of the most poetic and socially conscious in the history of popular Latin music.
While lauded for its musical quality, Soplando lacked the necessary dance and mainstream appeal needed at a time when the fiery merengues of Johnny Ventura were still the rage.
Not until he welcomed the advice of record exec Bienvenido Rodriguez, who suggested he pick up the beats, did Guerra begin fidgeting with more commercial material. The result: Guerra — over the course of 10 albums and 20 years — would revolutionize merengue and reach immeasurable heights with imaginative lyrical genius and rhythmic fusions.
Guerra is also unique in that he's followed his own musical path. He has frequently scored commercially, most notably with Bachata Rosa, which netted the hit title track as well as "Burbujas de Amor" and "La Bilirrubina." But he's brave enough to go a different route, like he did with Para Ti, a religious-themed offering he released in 2005.
Such flexibility has earned Guerra a special place in music history, further cemented by the success of La Llave de Mi Corazón, his most recent album. And although he has ruffled some feathers over the years with his political views, he has always stood firm in defending himself, even after visiting Cuba in 1992. But no matter which way Guerra leans, his musical accomplishments are enough for him to stand tall.