Vicente García reinvented himself by embracing Dominican sounds vastly different from the alternative genres he once played. Now he's artistically freer than ever.
When Vicente García dropped his new album Candela this past May, listeners were treated to an idyllic experience. Loaded with modern 808 trap beats infused with bachata and merengue, Candela offers a modern take on Dominican-rooted sounds, and completes the trilogy that García began with 2011’s Melodrama and 2016’s A La Mar.
“I felt that I needed to work on a merengue,” the Dominican artist tells CHICA, referring to the album’s title track. “It’s a merengue that searches for the origins, that replaces a lot of elements with other instruments.” Since he worked with bachata and salsa on his other albums, García incorporated merengue on Candela in order to evoke the happiness evoked by one of the genres most associated with Dominicans.
Though García made some minor changes to the genre’s traditional instrumentation, he made sure to stay generally on merengue brand. “The genre has characteristics that are very specific,” says García. “I didn’t want to transform [it], but [I did want to] experiment.” Traditionally, the genre involves a lot of instrumentation, and the element of dance is extremely important—it’s customary for bands to have at least three vocalist-dancers in addition to the lead singer. These specific traits are absent from García’s more minimalist execution, but he faithfully mimics the genre’s roots by replacing the classic piano sounds with guitar and swapping out the trumpets for synthesizers.
Born in Santo Domingo, García grew up playing basketball in the Zona Colonial, colloquially known as “La Zona.” When recalling his earliest musical memories, he remembers his father’s record collection as having a huge impact on him. Though his father was not a musician, his enthusiasm for the art motivated many conversations. “My relationship with dad always revolved around talking about music,” he says. His dad’s records were like passports to different parts of the world, with jazz, salsa, reggae, and African artists all making appearances, but even that wasn’t enough for the “Ahí Ahí” singer: “I grew up wanting to discover more music.”
In his teen years, García began to associate himself with the skate culture in the D.R., which has ties to punk, hardcore, and rock en español, but eventually he started experimenting with soul and funk and wanted to change his style. He noticed that other artists in Latin America seemed to have the same idea, and funk-Latino bands like Chilean group Los Tetas, one of the many bands that influenced him, caught his attention.
While opening for Dominican legend Juan Luis Guerra with Calor Urbano in 2007, García began to realize how beloved Dominican genres like bachata and merengue were in different cities and countries. “When I came back from [that] tour, I wanted to create more music with our sounds and our identity,” he says. “That’s how my solo career began, because I proposed it to the band, to change the sound and style a bit, but they didn’t want to.” That tour also created a special bond between García and Guerra; the two collaborated on last year’s “Loma de Cayenas.”
In 2008, García traveled to the countryside of the Dominican Republic to hear Afro-Dominican music and experience the corresponding culture. There he figured out the kind of music he wanted to make, thus commencing his solo career as a contemporary tropical artist. “[For Melodrama], I began to research more on our roots,” says García. “To trace the roots of bachata. I now say it was an investigation, though at the time I was doing it for plain curiosity.” He then took it even farther with the Afro-Dominican ballads he created for A La Mar.
Candela unites non-conventional sounds and Afro-Dominican influences with the funk and trap influences of García’s earlier years, creating a blend that caters to everyone, but specifically descendants of the African diaspora in Latin American countries. The singer-songwriter does not consider himself strictly a bachatero or a merenguero—just someone who wants to create music out of love and passion. Though he has a few Latin Grammys under his belt, he remains firm that his idea of success is completing an amazing project that makes people happy.
García is set to perform on July 13 at Central Park SummerStage in New York City and will be touring in Europe later this year. Check out his video for “Ahí Ahí” below.