Andre Veloz: La Bachatera Transforming the Genre
La Fosforera, a word that means “Happy Woman”, is Andre Veloz’ nickname. She is a Dominican raised-St. Croix born singer and songwriter currently living in the Bronx. She took on her mother’s last name Veloz, which means “Speedy”, to embrace her maternal line. And yes, she is a woman and she sings bachata.
You might’ve already heard her music. Her song, “A Ti Te Parió Una Mujer” (“A Woman Birthed You”) was being played on the radio. That alone is a huge win given the song’s empowering lyrics, especially within a male-dominated genre. Indeed, Andre Veloz’ voice and talent is transforming the bachata genre and reimagining it from a much needed perspective.
Andre Veloz and I sat for hours to chat about her life and music in her cozy Bronx apartment as she prepared to go to a friend’s house birthday party. The interview was in Spanglish and it was hard to not get too excited and go on tangents because, alas, it was two Santiagueras connecting. She ran around the house making sandwichitos with the orange-colored spread most Dominicans know, and offered me juice and coffee before we finally went for a beer run.
“There’s no formula in the music industry. I’m a single-parent of my music and raising that child is a lot of work” Veloz says, “ I’m just trying to get my name out there for the right reasons, and be ready when a good opportunity knocks”.
She shared that she didn’t always sing bachata. The stigma in the Dominican Republic at the time (and arguably still in current times) around bachata was very strong. “I was in the backyard of the house, this was in Imbert, and a song comes on that goes ‘tu tienes todas las cosas que Dios hizo lindas en una mujer’…at that point I already knew the song and I was singing, and a muchacha who was in our home told me ‘No, don’t sing that. Little girls don’t sing that music’.”
“You could sing anything that wasn’t bachata”, Veloz says, “because bachata’s considered something too of the lower class…sometimes it’s when you emigrate and leave the land that you came from [that you] see the good things that your culture has, unfortunately”.
Veloz was born in St. Croix–part of the U.S. Virgin Islands–though her first memories were in the rural areas of Puerto Plata. Moving to Santiago made the bachata prohibition more apparent for Veloz. Instead, she became a roquerita, a young Rock en Español fan, listening to the popular Dominican groups Tribu del Sol, Transfución and Toque Profundo. She even started her own rock band at the age of 13 called Horizontes Verticales. “I regret neglecting bachata but I also can’t take away from the fact that I learned a lot from Rock En Español.” She shared that she feels nostalgic remembering some of these groups. Her humorous flow even as she talks about nostalgia reminds you of that friend that makes the party better the moment she walks in, or that you always go to for advice. Or the muchacha in class who always had something clever to say.
Andre Veloz is just that cool.
The crowd loves her, whether it’s at Tililá where she mesmerizes and rocks the stage as she encourages people to dance, or at an event like last year’s La Galería open mic where she gave us a taste of her original bachata song, “La Pendeja”.
Indeed, she’s the life of the party. And if you don’t know about La Fosforera, you’ve been missing out on the fun.
From Jazz to Bachata
Andre’s very first guiso—a word that I didn’t know meant gig—with Horizontes Verticales, was in a place that used to be called Dalí. “Man, we played bad! It was very experimental,” she says, though people really showed support for the young group. “People would think we were cute.”
After the band ended, Andre Veloz found herself trying to figure out which path to take at age 17. She began to realize that there are only so many opportunities for women in the Dominican Republic. In the end, she chose to skip college and navigate the vibrant Latin and Afro Jazz scene of Santiago. Andre was singing with some well-known folks out there. She would do back up for Patricia Pereyra and Xiomara Fortuna. “I sang folkloric music including palo and Afro-Jazz” she says, “I was making decent money.” She was also recording jingles with Rafelito Mirabal and working as a news anchor for el Canal 25. “Knowing that I had been born in the U.S. and had the privilege of coming before, my choice was to stay out there” she explained, “At age 21 was when I moved here.”
It was a difficult transition coming to the United States for Veloz, especially not knowing anyone. Thankfully she spoke a little English.
“It was a trauma; the transition was brutal. It was also difficult getting here and realizing that all the work I had done to advance my career didn’t mean much here. No one knew me here”. It was an audition with her current music partner Pin Bencosme that started her in the world of bachata. She performs many guisos with the band formed in collaboration with Yasser Tejeda, Edwin Ferrera, Joel Guzman, John Chapman, Ernesto Maldonado, Ricky Ramos and Dan Berg.
“For me it was reconnecting to that thing I didn’t know I knew”, she explains of bachata. And she knew exactly why bachata had had so much influence in her life. Beyond the fact that she lived in the Dominican Republic and was therefore inevitably surrounded by bachata, Veloz tells the story of how she listened to bachata when visiting her grandmother who lived in St. Croix. “At my grandmother’s bar in St. Croix, when we used to visit her, I used to see her and the women dancing in the bar. When you emigrate, that’s when you really get in touch with the source. It can be easier than when you are in your country because I noticed that in St. Croix, the place where Dominicans lived was a very small community. People would bond over music and customs, and it didn’t matter if it was or wasn’t accepted. This was in the 80’s, when bachata still had the stigma and it didn’t matter because people would get together and dance and there was no stigma over it, and the same happens here.”
Among other notable artists who Andre Veloz has collaborated with are Dery Gracito (featured in video above), Benjamin de Menil and IASO Records, Joan “El Duque de la Bachata” Soriano, Edilio Paredes, Xiomara Fortuna, Ramon Cordero, Al Baron Ambrosio, Frank Mendez, Gerardo Contino and La Asociación de Músicos Clásicos en NY.
Bringing a much-needed woman’s voice to Bachata
La Fosforera is actively seeking to shift the narrative through her music. In one of her songs she wrote: “In an unequal world that censors women/ the dicha of being born a girl brings about a difficult task/ And even though everyone was once a woman’s child/there are those who forget and torture a woman”(translated from Spanish).
Andre Veloz explains that she resents the lack of women and women’s narratives in bachata. There are very little women and it seems that even when there are women, they’re partnered up with a man.
“Did you notice that in bachata there’s no woman alone? And when there’s a woman it has to be next to a man? Like Monchy y Alexandra, Carlos y Alejandra, and now Monchy y Natalia. The role of women is, ‘oh you’re good company, back-up singing and eye candy’ but very few are female leads, solos artists, or band leaders” she explains. “Because I take pride in being the boss” she added with a smirk. “Yeah, when I’m the boss, a few musicians have already called me a bitch so I know I’m doing something right”. The artist Alexandra did go solo after separating from “Monchy y Alexandra”, though her career has yet to become mainstream. “I admire Alexandra, we haven’t done her talent justice”, she says of La Reina de La Bachata, “I believe her talent needs to be more recognized.”
Andre went to el Instituto Politécnico Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, an all-women’s Catholic school which she says she really didn’t feel comfortable in. “They didn’t promote women’s equality,; it’s controlled by nuns and religious principles. I honestly think that there are more important things to promote than religiosity, because while they promote religiosity, they don’t promote kindness.” Veloz explains that there’s a glass ceiling in the Dominican Republic for women and very little equality, especially in music. “There are people doing interesting things with dembow and things like that, but there’s still very little happening in music. Everything is so sexist…we need to perpetuate a culture that is more just for women, you know? You’re creating a lose-lose situation because little girls listen to this music.”
Andre Veloz, who openly embraces that she’s of African descent, shared that she was also bullied in school for keeping her hair natural, “I used to like my hair curly. I do my hair now because it’s more convenient. But there, I had my curly hair all the time. People would say ‘oh you should do your hair’—that made me so angry”.
She believes that a change needs to happen in education so that women can become more empowered. “Not education that you go to a university but also education that starts at home. And more spaces that have something smart to say because there are no role models.” She then adds that she doesn’t necessarily want to be a role model herself. “I don’t want to be a role model because my nickname is La Fosforera, but even as a fosforera I hope to bring something to the table”.
We went on to discuss feminism and its role within her music. Veloz explains, “For the definition of feminist, if you think a man and a woman have the same rights, then you are a feminist, and therefore I think I’m a feminist. That that becomes purely what I’m about? Maybe not like the singer Bebe who is openly about feminism with that focus. No, I have more subtle ways of introducing it.”
One of these ways is by not changing the gender expressed in bachata songs: if a song is speaking to a woman, she too will speak to a woman although she’s heterosexual. “Almost all bachatas are written for men.I wanna make the point that ‘Hey, there are no bachatas written for a woman’”.
She certainly reflects this in her music, her songs are indeed a much-needed woman’s voice in a genre dominated by men.
“I am really annoyed by love songs;I wanna change that. I wanna change the role of women in Latin music or at least bring out and make some noise about the lack of women and the lack of respect,” she says. When asked what type of songs she would write, she answered, “Love but alrevez; everything is in favor of the man. The man wants the woman but what is the woman thinking about? Maybe I don’t want your love, maybe I want your love but I know it’s not good for me so I’ll go with the neighbor—there’s a lack of women’s perspectives.”
A Musician and a Visual Artist
While taking a peak into her apartment that she shares with a roommate, I learned that Andre Veloz is also a visual artist. She has several paintings around the house, an impressive collection of books, and a small altar with an image that she decorated and added her own touch to of La Virgen de la Guadalupe which belonged to her grandmother. The altar also had an image of Yemayá.
“I have a different love for art than I do for music. Music is a pasión dolorosa because it costs my blood and work to echarla p’alante…with visual art, it’s an expression I just have for fun.” She was proud because earlier that week she had sold an art piece. Many of her paintings were done with matches with different colored tips and other artifacts.
Andre Veloz works in a mental health care center for children during the day. She also makes jewelry which she used to sell to sustain herself when she first got to the United States.
“I like to think I’m powerful, and I have to be to survive”.
She says that music is her happy place where she can enjoy life to its fullest. While pointing to a photo of her on stage, she says “Do you know about the Flow theory? I’m gonna get into psychology a little bit. When you are in flow, it’s when you are in the moment. There are no distractions. You are one with it. You are just in that perfect moment. That’s my place – even if things are not going right, I enjoy it.”
You can learn more about Andre Veloz on her website, or on her Facebook page and catch her performances in places like Tililá every other Sunday. In February she will be releasing the video for the band’s original song, “La Chica de Puerto Plata”.