Juan Luis Guerra [1956 -]
Juan Luis Guerra was born in 1956 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He studied philosophy and literature at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, but then turned to music studies, first at El Conservatorio Nacional de Música de Santo Domingo, and then at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he graduated in 1982 with a diploma in jazz composition.
After returning to the Dominican Republic, Guerra formed a band that included Maridalia Hernández, Mariela Mercado, and Roger Zayas-Bazán, and released his first album, Soplando, in 1984, featuring a mix of jazz and Latin music with rich vocal harmonies in the style of American bands like Manhattan Transfer. He named the band 440, Cuatro Cuarenta (a reference to the standard pitch, A440, to which musical instruments tune) and began to compose songs in a lyrical vocal-centered style of merengue. This new sound burst onto the international scene with the 1989 hit, “Ojala que llueva café,” a song whose lyrics express longing for abundance and prosperity in impoverished countrysides in Latin America.
In 1991 Juan Luis Guerra y 440 won their first Grammy Award for the album Bachata Rosa. Among other things, this album sparked international interest in Dominican bachata music, which had previously been stigmatized as music of the urban poor and had little representation in radio and commercial media. Their 1992 CD, Areito, included songs like “El costo de la vida” that explicitly drew attention to the problems of the poor and the abuses of capitalism.
While Juan Luis Guerra has become known as a socially conscious artist, his music is always danceable, blending upbeat Dominican and other Caribbean rhythms with poetic lyrics that range from social commentary, to love, to partying. His many hits include “Que me des tu cariño” and “La llave de mi corazón” (2007), a song/album for which he won five Latin Grammy awards. Among his many honors, Guerra has been declared a UNESCO Artist for Peace (2008) and has been awarded an honorary doctorate by his Alma Mater, the Berklee College of Music (2009).