Juan Luis Guerra Seijas
(born June 7, 1957), known professionally as Juan Luis Guerra
, is a Dominican singer, songwriter and producer who has sold over 30 million records, and won numerous awards including 15 Latin Grammy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Latin Billboard Music Awards. He won 3 Latin Grammy Awards in 2010, including Album of the Year. Most recently, he won the Latin Grammy Award for Producer of the Year in 2012.Guerra is one of the most internationally recognized Latin artists of recent decades. His popular style of merengue and Latin fusion has garnered him considerable success throughout Latin America. Guerra is sometimes associated with the popular Dominican music called bachata, and while this association is partly true, his distinct style of Bachata has a more traditional bolero rhythm and feel with Bossa-Nova influenced melodies and harmony in some of his songs. He does not limit himself to one style of music, instead, he incorporates diverse rhythms like merengue, bolero-bachata, balada, salsa, rock and roll, and even gospel. "Ojalá Que Llueva Café" ("I Wish It Would Rain Coffee") is one of his most critically acclaimed self-written and composed pieces. A remix of "La Llave de Mi Corazón" ("The Key of My Heart") with Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas is also an example of his fusion of genres.Early lifeBorn Juan Luis Guerra Seijas in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, he is the son of Olga Seijas and Gilberto Guerra, a basketball player. Before he committed to music, Guerra studied philosophy and literature at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. He then studied guitar and music theory at El Conservatorio Nacional de Música de Santo Domingo, then decided to go to the United States to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. He graduated from Berklee in 1982 with a diploma in jazz composition. After his return to the Dominican Republic, he released his first album, Soplando
(1984) with a group of local musicians that subsequently became known as Juan Luis Guerra y 440
. The group members were Maridalia Hernández, Roger Zayas-Bazán, and Mariela Mercado. The band's name in Spanish is officially publicized as Cuatro Cuarenta
), a shortening of the normally strict reading of number "four hundred forty". The 440 part of the band's name refers to the standard tuning of A440. According to Guerra, this first album was based on jazz tunes and concepts he had learned at Berklee, and it "wasn't intended to be a commercial hit." Subsequently, however, he began to write more merengues.Two albums followed, Mudanza y acarreo
and Mientras más lo pienso... tú
. The band was nominated to attend the Festival of OTI (Organization of Iberoamerican Television) to represent the Dominican Republic.Their next album, in 1990, brought them international acclaim. Ojalá que llueva café
, a slow melodic number with superfast background tracks, became a number one hit in many Latin American countries, with the hit song of the same name. Subsequently, a video of the song was filmed and Juan Luis Guerra and his 440 band began touring. (The song's fame was revived in 1996 and 2008 with covers by Mexican band Café Tacuba and Spanish singer Rosario Flores.)
In 1991, they released their next album, Bachata Rosa
, which became a major hit and earned Guerra his first Grammy award. The album, having sold more than five million copies at that time, allowed Guerra to keep touring Latin America, USA and Europe. This album contains memorable love songs such as "Burbujas de amor" (Bubbles of Love), "Bachata Rosa", "Rosalía", "Como abeja al panal" (Like a Bee to Honeycomb), "A pedir su mano" (Asking For Her Hand), "Carta de amor" (Love Letter), and "Estrellitas y duendes" (Little stars and elves).Guerra became a controversial figure in 1992 after he released his next album, Areíto
(which is a Taíno word for song and dance
). It featured the hit single "El costo de la vida" (The Cost of Living), whose video clearly has an anti-capitalist message. Other songs included in this album protest against the poor conditions in many Latin American countries, the celebration of the 'discovery' of the Americas ("1492"), and the double standards of first-world nations. "El costo de la vida" was his first number-one hit in the Hot Latin Tracks. Guerra became the first performer of tropical music to achieve this feat.In his next album, Fogaraté
(1994), he stayed away from recording any protest songs. This album is particularly centered in the more rural and lesser known types of Dominican music, like the Perico Ripiao
.Guerra's 1998 release Ni es lo mismo ni es igual
(Neither The Same Nor Equal) garnered much critical acclaim, winning three Latin Grammys in 2000 for Best Merengue Performance, Best Tropical Song, and Best Engineered Album. Its hits include "Mi PC" (My PC), "Palomita Blanca" (Little White Dove), and "El Niágara en bicicleta" (The Niagara on Bicycle - literal; to ride a bicycle across Niagara Falls, i.e. a difficult task - colloquial "al pasar el Niagara en bicicleta", Cuban).
In 2004, Guerra released his first new album in six years. Entitled "Para Ti" (For you), the album's songs are mostly religious in nature, reflecting Guerra's fervent Christianity. With this album the singer won two awards at the 2005 Billboards, in the categories of Gospel-Pop and Tropical-Merengue, for the hit single Las Avispas
(The wasps), the first time ever that one song has won these two categories at the same time. Other hits included "Para Ti" and "Soldado" (Soldier
). At the same time, Guerra was honored with the Latino Special Award for the Music Academy of Spain for his contributions to the music of his country and the Caribbean in the last 20 years.In January 2006, Juan Luis performed at Berklee's 60th anniversary along with other artists such as Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, Michel Camilo and Chiara Civello. That same year, he recorded with Diego Torres in "Abriendo Caminos" (Opening roads) and with Maná in "Bendita Tu Luz" (Blessed Be Your Light).Notably, Juan Luis Guerra was part of the former highest grossing music tour of all time,(U2's 360 tour is currently the highest grossing music tour of all time) as he was the opening act for The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang Tour at their San Juan, Puerto Rico show in February, 2006.He was also invited by Sting to sing with him at a concert at Altos de Chavón
, La Romana in the Dominican Republic in 2006. At the Premio Lo Nuestro
awards in 2007, he was given the honorary lifetime achievement award. He also performed the lead single of his new album, "La Llave De Mi Corazón", released in March 2007. Guerra won more than 20 awards with this CD, including 5 Latin Grammy Awards, 6 Premios Casandra awards, 4 billboard Awards, 2 lo nuestro, and one Grammy Award.On April 6, 2006, Juan Luis Guerra was honored as a BMI Icon at the 13th annual BMI Latin Awards. Named BMI's 1995 Latin Songwriter of the Year, Guerra's songwriting has garnered 14 BMI Latin Awards.Juan Luis Guerra was honored at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2007 with 5 awards, sweeping each category he was nominated in: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Tropical Song & Best Merengue Album. Its engineers: Allan Leschhorn, Luis Mansilla, Ronnie Torres, and Adam Ayan were also awarded Best Engineered album. The night before the Latin Grammy Awards he received the Academy's Person of the Year Award for his contribution to Latin music and for his philanthropy.On March 10, 2008, Juan Luis Guerra was honored with 6 awards in los Premios Casandra, the most important award event in the Dominican Republic. He won for Orchestrator of the year, Outstanding artist abroad, Music album of the year for "La Llave de mi Corazón" (The Key To My Heart) and "El Soberano" (The Sovereign), the most important award of the night.On March 16, 2008, he and other artists participated in the Paz Sin Fronteras
concert organized by Juanes, celebrating the end of the 2008 Andean diplomatic crisis between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.On April 11, 2008, Juan Luis Guerra was the Billboard Latin awards big winner, with 7 nominations and 3 awards.On September 15, 2008 Guerra was named a UNESCO Artist for Peace "in recognition of his efforts for the benefit of children with disabilities and children in need."On May 9, 2009, Guerra was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Berklee College of Music at its commencement ceremony.
Singing in other languages
Guerra has recorded several songs in English, like "July 19th" on his Fogaraté
release (1995), and more recently "Medicine for My Soul" and "Something Good" with Italian singer Chiara Civello. Some of his songs have verses in both English and Spanish such as "Woman del callao", "Guavaberry", "Señorita" and more recently "La Llave de Mi Corazón". Album Areíto
featured two songs, cover-title song "Areíto" and "Naboria daca, mayanimacaná" which are sung in the Arawak language of the extinct Taino natives of Hispaniola. Juan Luis Guerra also recorded the album "Bachata Rosa" in Portuguese. He uses Japanese words in Bachata en Fukuoka
(Bachata in Fukuoka), 2010 Latin Grammy winner for Best Tropical Song.
Being a native Dominican, his music is heavily influenced by native Caribbean rhythms, such as merengue and bachata.His lyrics are often charged with intentionally simple, heavily metaphorical, erotic, or popular expressions, such as "Burbujas de Amor" (Bubbles Of Love) or "El Niagara en Bicicleta" (Niagara on Bicycle), an idiom for something difficult to do. His lyrics also reflect in political issues, but from a deeply human perspective, that is, centering the lyrics in the human drama that social injustice generates. This can be seen in "visa para un sueño" about the broken hope of an American dream for the peoples of the Dominican Republic in particular and Latin America in general, "Niagara on Bicycle" about the negligence that destroy the social health services, "El Costo de La Vida" about the effects of global capitalism on the people or "Acompañeme Civil" about police and military corruption that leads to exploitation of the people that they should care for.In 2013 he won an award from Premio Lo Nuestro.