Juan Luis Guerra Seijas (born June 7, 1957), known professionally as Juan Luis Guerra, is a Dominican singer, songwriter, composer, and producer. He has sold over 30 million records, and has won numerous awards including 15 Latin Grammy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Latin Billboard Music Awards. Guerra won 3 Latin Grammy Awards in 2010, including Album of the Year. In 2012, he won the Latin Grammy Award for Producer of the Year.
Guerra is one of the most internationally recognized Latin artists of recent decades. His popular style of merengue and Afro-Latin fusion has garnered him considerable success throughout Latin America. He is also credited for popularizing bachata music on a global level and is often associated with the genre, although his distinct style of bachata features a more traditional bolero rhythm and aesthetic mixed 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, bachata-fusion, balada, salsa, rock and roll, and even gospel. "Ojalá Que Llueva Café" ("I Wish It Would Rain Coffee"), which is one of his most critically acclaimed pieces.
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 (Four Forty), 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.
In 1984, after a performance in front of the Dominican entrepreneur Bienvenido Rodríguez, Juan Luis Guerra was signed to Karen Records. This also represented a radical shift in Guerra's musical style, as his music would now be more Merengue focused. In this time period he would record two albums, Mudanza y Acarreo in 1985 and Mientras Más Lo Pienso...Tú in 1987. As a result of his work, Guerra and his band would begin to gain more recognition. The band was nominated to attend the Festival of OTI (Organization of Iberoamerican Television) to represent the Dominican Republic.
In 1988 during the recording of the album Ojalá Que Llueva Café, Guerra would permanently become the leading vocalists of 440. This album also represented the beginning of his international recognition, and the album's sales would place him and his band at the top of the charts in many Latin American countries.
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.
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" (lit. "My PC", My Computer), "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 Billboard Music Awards, 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 mMy 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.
On April 5, 2010, Guerra released the official video for his new single "Bachata en Fukuoka". The video was filmed in various locations in the city of Los Angeles, and was directed by acclaimed Colombian director Simon Brand. On June 8, 2010, Guerra released A son de Guerra which contains eight musical rhythms (bachata, merengue, bolero, Mambo, funk, Rock, Jazz, reggae) and includes the collaboration of Juanes among others. The album contains hits like "La Guaga", "La Calle", and "Bachata en Fukuoka". The first single from his new production, "Bachata en Fukuoka", placed in the # 1 position on the Hot Latin Tracks, Tropical Songs, and Latin Pop Airplay Songs of the Billboard charts. Simultaneously, the collaboration of Guerra with Enrique Iglesias on "Cuando me Enamoro" was in the #2 spot on the Rhythm Airplay Chart.
In January 2012, the video for his single "En el cielo no hay Hospital" premiered on YouTube. This song belonged to new musical production of the called "Coleccion Cristiana", an album that features Christian content. Later that year, he collaborated with the Spanish singer Miguel Bosé on his album Papitwo, in the song "Yo creo en Ti".
On April 25, 2014, "Tus Besos" was released to the airwaves. It is a bachata song, with a music video inspired by the rock and roll of the 50's. This video was directed by his son Jean Gabriel.
Singing in other languages:
Guerra has recorded several songs in English, like "July 19th" on his Fogaraté release 1994, 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". The album Areíto featured two songs, the 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.
As a composer for other artists:
In 1988, he made his debut as a songwriter for other artists such as fellow Dominican musician Taty Salas, for whom he wrote the music for De tu boca, a song with which he participated in the now defunct OTI Festival, reaching the top 3 category. He also composed songs for Mexican artists like Emmanuel (No he podido verte, recorded in 1990) and Luis Miguel (Hasta que me olvides 1993 and Te necesito 2003). He also composed for the Puerto Rican salsa singer Gilberto Santa Rosa in 1994.
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, "El Niágara en Bicicleta" about the negligence that destroy the social health services, "El Costo de La Vida" about the effects of global capitalism on the people, or "Acompáñeme Civil" about police and military corruption that leads to exploitation of the people that they should care for.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license