Bachata is considered a man’s territory, certainly no place for a “respectable” mujer – at least that’s what Andre Veloz, a bachatera breaking barriers for women in the genre, heard all her life.
While Prince Royce blasts from cars and gringos in Beverly Hills learn basic bachata steps, the music was long demonized in its country of origin, the Dominican Republic, where it was regarded as the melodics of the lower classes, the people with so-called loose morals.
That’s why Veloz, a 33-year-old St. Croix-born, New York-livin’ dominicana, making the dream her elders told her was unacceptable and producers still allege is unfit for women, is so inspiring, especially considering her songs unapologetically uplift women.
Ahead, the Inspiring Latina shares what it’s like being a woman in a male-dominated genre, her most sexist experiences, how music can change culture and what inspires her to keep grinding in spite of the hardships.
You fell in love with bachata at a young age, realizing early the stigma that comes with enjoying the genre. Can you talk about that?
I used to live in rural Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and that’s where I first heard bachata. The lady that used to take care of us would tell me, “No, no. Don’t sing that. That’s not good.”
As a female, and even as a male, if you had a certain level of education, bachata was not well-seen. That was forbidden, especially for a girl liking or singing it. That was “music of the brothels.” In the Dominican Republic today, you still see it a little. If you are from a “good family,” you’re still encouraged not to like it. It is still seen as not classy if it’s not Prince Royce or Romeo. My uncle, who’s like my father, doesn’t like that I sing it. But he’s going to have to get used to it at this point.
When you decided you wanted to do music more seriously, you started with rock and jazz. Why transition to bachata as an adult?
When you migrate and get homesick, you start appreciating more of what is yours. Your perception, fortunately, changes. When I moved to New York from the Dominican Republic, where I grew up, in 2004, I wanted to sing jazz, but I realized I had to go back to my source. It was reclaiming my identity. Also, it was acknowledging that I knew a lot about this music, coming to terms with that and understanding it as rich music, not second-class like people painted it.
It was also a pleasure to find out that I can do this, and that I can bring other genres into it, that I can contribute something. Bachata started with women, so the lack of us in the genre now needs to be addressed.
On that, you are intent on being a solo woman singer in this genre, noting that the few bachateras who are mainstream had to be paired with a man for success. Why do you think that is, and why is it so important for you to be a boss on your own?
I don’t find a logical reason, but it’s turned into a trend: Monchy y Alexandra, Carlos y Alejandra and Monchy y Natalia. When I get offers from composers to record music and they tell me, “you’re going to do a duo with a man,” that for me is a turn-off, because there’s no reason for it. You can do one or two songs. I’m not against it. But for it to be a thing, that I can’t have a band on my own, as a woman, and I can’t be a band leader without sharing that leadership with a man, I’m against that. I would be more comfortable sharing the stage with another woman, as long as we are treated as talented artists and not meat. It really creeps me out, and I abort the idea that you have to have a man next to you to succeed. It’s also a lack of creativity. Everyone wants to replicate the Monchy y Alexandra formula because it was successful. But that doesn’t serve us or help us grow.
How is your zeal for being a solo artist, a boss in control of her craft, often read?
I get called a bitch. But, honestly, that for me is motivating. I love it. When it comes to musicians, which is so male-dominated, they’re not used to it. It’s not that I’m mean but rather that they’re not used to taking direction from a woman. They tell me I’m cocky or a bitch. Really, I am just interested in succeeding, in getting my music known, and I need to make sure of that. This is important. It’s serious. It’s my job. A musician isn’t going to call his day job boss at Chase a “bitch” because she scolded him for coming into work late, and they shouldn’t approach me like that, either.
What is it like being a woman in a male-dominated industry and genre?
I’ve been performing since I was 14, and I was always a tomboy, so I didn’t realize until later that how I was being treated wasn’t normal. But now people have made it evident to me. Being a woman, we have an unfair amount of requests from society, especially from a singer’s perceptive. Our hair has to be straight, and I like mine big, curly and beautiful. Latinas in particular are also expected to dance, seduce and show skin, but will they ask Romeo that? Will they tell him to bleach his hair? No. I will say that I am excited for the next generation who is really embracing their Afro-Latina roots and all that comes with. It’s a beautiful movement, one I hope brings a switch in the mentality.
What is the most sexist experience you've had in this field so far?
I went to the Dominican Republic a while ago to talk to a producer and try to convince him to invest in my music. He told me he didn’t hire women because women fall in love, have kids and then get crazy. I was just like whoa!!! I immediately wanted to prove him wrong, and I still do. It stayed with me. It’s a heavy statement.
Wow! That’s horrendous. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Your music is pretty political, filled with girl-power lines that critique machismo and uplift women. Why is this important for you?
We have to start changing the mentality. As a singer, performer, artist and woman, I have to think, what is my purpose? What am I contributing to this world? And I think it’s to prove that women are powerful and that we deserve respect and also role models, not that I am one, but I expect at least to show something positive to the women who consume my music.
What role do you think music plays in changing culture?
It’s essential. It’s as strong as a political movement. It is a political movement. Music can mobilize anything, I think. But it has to be a community effort, one with musicians, record labels and consumers involved.
Being an artist comes with unimaginable difficulties, and then being a mujer in a male-dominated genre brings new layers of hardship. Where do you find your inspiration?
Knowing this is my purpose. I think of times I had to do jobs I didn’t want to do. This is my way to make a positive impact on the world. There’s no other way. This is my gift, and this is my way of leaving my mark when I’m gone.
What message do you want to leave to young Latinas whose dreams seem impossible?
Stay focused and go for what you want. As long as you do it and are convinced that you are leaving the world better than how you found it, then that should be your motivation and your goal. I’m not close to where I want to be, but when I’m getting discouraged, I always tell myself I owe this to myself and to the women who have raised me, influenced me and who I influence.