When Aventura closed their run as the biggest band in bachata with four shows at Madison Square Garden, it seemed as though the genre couldn't get any bigger. Now, four years later, former frontman Romeo Santos is bringing the lovelorn, acoustic sounds that were first played by the Dominican Republic's rural working class all the way to Yankee Stadium, selling out two shows in his home borough. Taking a break from rehearsals – "We've been setting everything up for about a week and a half," he says – Santos spoke briefly about his early influences, bachata's rise and what it means to play this historic venue.
Obviously you're from the Bronx, but where exactly did you grow up?
Vyse Avenue. That's close to Southern Boulevard, Boston Road.
What music were you hearing when you were growing up there?
Being originally from the Bronx, the advantage I have is that I was listening to all sorts of genres. I grew up in my neighborhood with salsa, of course bachata, but also hip-hop, Nirvana – it was just like a mixed culture. It was a beautiful thing for me because at the moment I started creating music, having all these different sounds and elements, it was very organic because I grew up with all these types different music.
If you were up on salsa, were you listening to Fania All-Stars' Live at Yankee Stadium? That's almost this weekend's only precedent.
Yeah, I definitely was influenced by Fania. I'm a huge salsa fan. I actually have a salsa on my album, Formula Vol. 2, featuring Marc Anthony. I'm half Puerto Rican as well, so I grew up listening to salsa and appreciate the culture that everything has to offer. And Fania were the pioneers, the school of salsa. If you didn't know about salsa, you had to get put on and start with the pioneers – Cecila Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, Hector Lavoe and the Fania All-Stars.
What bachata artists were you looking up to back then?
They're still around, you know? Like the pioneers of bachata, it's a long list: Obviously Anthony Santos, who's a friend of mine and influenced me a lot, Luis Vargas, Raulín Rodríguez, Frank Reyes — it goes on and on.
When those guys came to New York, what kind of venues were they playing?
They would do restaurants that at night would become somewhat of club, and that was really popular in the Nineties, even early 2000s. It started dying out I would say in maybe 2005.
Now bachata is becoming more mainstream. It's a beautiful, romantic genre that people are beginning to appreciate more and more every day, and people are becoming more aware of different bachateros. It started just in Dominican communities, and then it started crossing over to Puerto Ricans and then all Latinos. It's even in Europe.
When Aventura got together, what was it like in the early days? What kind of gigs were you playing?
I don't know if you can even call them gigs because we never got paid! It was more of a hobby, just performing for the corner deli. We'd just close the street down and vibe with the Latino community. Then when we started gaining popularity, we started playing at small venues, clubs with a capacity of two or three hundred people. After we recorded our hit "Obsesión" and started to create some buzz underground, we started playing at bigger theaters with a capacity of two or three thousand people, which was huge for us.
And now two nights Yankee Stadium. In your lifetime, has there ever been anything like this?
I don't want to sound arrogant, but it hasn't happened! It's the first time that a Latino has been able to perform – headline alone – at such a prestigious stadium. It's a huge responsibility: This is where all my family and all my friends and all my fans come together, so I want to make it a historic event. I wouldn't be able to tell you when it will happen again, but I can tell you that it's the first time that it's happened, and I'm just really amazed at what's really happened in my career.
Like I said, this started out as a hobby, I was just trying to entertain myself by just doing something that I felt passionate about: writing poems and songs. When I started getting compliments and realizing that I was good at it, then I started to take it a little more serious, you know? But Yankee Stadium, that was far from what I even imagined I could accomplish