GFDD Hosts Internationally renowned Dominican Musicians in Upper Manhattan

March 21, 2014

On March 21, Symphony Space in New York City’s Upper Manhattan came alive with  music, laughter and colorful stories behind the tropical tunes of two legends of the Dominican and international music scene, Rafael Solano and Johnny Ventura. This momentous event marked Global Foundation for Democracy and Development’s (GFDD) first Dominican Get-Together (DGT) in the Big Apple of 2014.

Dominicans and non-Dominicans, including local dignitaries, partners, associates and music aficionados, filled the auditorium to celebrate the Dominican Republic’s rich and distinct musical heritage showcasing award winning musicians also known as "El Maestro” and “El Caballo Mayor” respectively. The charismatic pair took to the stage to recall the joys, challenges and successes of their
extensive careers spanning over five decades.

The evening’s thrilling program was introduced by GFDD’s Executive Director, Natasha Despotovic, who welcomed guests and invited them to celebrate the Dominican Republic’s rich and distinct musical rhythms by highlighting their respective work and resultant achievements in an exciting film montage. The audience were then tested on their knowledge of the legendary pair in a fun quiz.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Despotovic lauded their positive contributions to the Dominican and wider world. "We salute the fact that they have bought joy and happiness to millions as well as having been true ambassadors of Dominican culture. We hope to continue to work with them to bring more cultural and educational initiatives to the Dominican community in the US and abroad.”

The DGT, which was the first ever to be web-streamed live to
audiences around the globe, gave an opportunity to learn more about the winning characteristics that made both musicians legendary in their fields.

Rafael Solano Sánchez  is a Dominican pianist, song-writer, composer, arranger, author and former Dominican ambassador to United Nations Education and Scientific cultural organization (UNESCO). He has been credited with writing over a hundred songs of various genres that include romantic, folk, as well as choral,
religious, and of course, merengue music. His most famous love song, "Por Amor" (For Love), has been translated into several languages and performed by voices ranging from Marco Antonio Muñiz, Vicki Carr, Jon Secada, the Mariachi Vargas, and Plácido Domingo. It is often cited as one of the most successful Dominican songs.

He was born in Puerto Plata, on April 10, 1931 . At eleven years old he was considered a child prodigy and was a proficient violinist,
cellist, and devotee of the piano. In 1950 he moved to Santo Domingo to study at the National Conservatory of Music, but after completing all courses deviated from the goal of concert pianist to enter the then brand new Radio – Television Dominicana, and soon became one of the music directors there.

Solano had high aspirations and traveled to to New York in search of the teachings of renowned American composer Hall Overton, both privately and in the New School of Social
Research, a prestigious institution in the city. He successfully made ​​inroads as a television producer looking for new talent and was responsible for the meteoric rise of  latin voices like Fernandito Villalona, ​​Frank Valdez, Adalgisa Pantaleon, Sergio Vargas, and many more.

At the same time, he achieved recognition as a writer in his column titled " Solanismos " published in the daily newspaper Listin
Diaro, and as an author. In 2003,  he published a large volume entitled, "Merengue, Music and Dance of the Dominican Republic", together with distinguished musicologist Catana Perez de Cuello.  The book is significant for its quality of writing and its contribution to the scientific study of popular music in the country.

He has been decorated by the Dominican Government with the "Order of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella" and has
received the "Grand Gold " and " The Sovereign ", among the highest awards in Dominican popular music.

Johnny Ventura is the man who almost singlehandedly developed and modernized the contemporary merengue sound, beginning with his first recordings in the early ’60s. He was influenced by the original wave of rock & roll, and quickly imported the energy as well as some dance routines inspired by Elvis. He continued to
record into the 1990s, influencing other merengue singers such as popular artists, Wilfrido Vargas and Juan Luís Guerra.

He started his career as a singer in several bands that presented themselves at the dances in La Feria. In the early sixties he worked with the orchestra of Rondón Votau and in 1961 with the band of the Dominican percussionist Donald Wild. He also sang with Combo Caribe of Luis Pérez, with whom he recorded "Cuidado con el cuabero", of
which he was the author, and "La agarradera", of Luis Pérez. It was with this band that he recorded his first LP consisting of 12 songs.

Soon after he was recruited by the famous musical director Papa Molina to join La Super Orquesta San José, which he was the director of at that time. He joined as a singer and as a player of the güira. For two years Ventura was part of La Super Orquesta with stars like Vinicio Franco and Grecia Aquino. Although no
records remain of this group, this period was a landmark in his career. He was encouraged to create his own orchestra, the "Combo Show" which is known as an important part of the history of popular Dominican music.

In 1967 Ventura, who also once served as mayor of Santo Domingo, traveled to the United States, where he immediately became a star.

Following the reminiscences from the musicians, audience members excitedly posed questions to the artists and asked various questions.  Ms. Despotovic then intived talented volunteers to come up on stage to sing some of their favorite songs of the pair, to the delight of the crowd who invariably joined in. In return,  each brave guest received a prize of GFDD publications, New Perspectives Dominican Republic, and the  Dominican Encyclopedic Dictionary of
the Environment.

The enchanted and mesmerized audience were finally treated to one of Solano’s great piano compositions, in which Ventura duly joined for a soulful duet. The performance was rounded off with an emotive and heartfelt rendition of ‘Por Amor’.

People were asked about their thoughts at a reception following the event; “Seeing these great national treasures here tonight brings back  special
memories,” said  Marco Bastidas, a high school teacher in the Bronx.  “I see educational value in the fact that it shows an image of the Dominican Republic which goes beyond tourism… it is a vision of the country that is very conscious of its traditions, culture and musical heritage which is important to me as an educator.”

The activity, one of the largest ever staged of the Dominican Get-Togethers in the Big Apple, forms part of
GFDD’s mission to promote understanding and appreciation of Dominican culture, values and heritage, and to create opportunities for discussions on contemporary issues relevant to Dominican society in the homeland and abroad. GFDD reaches out to the Dominican community living the New York Metro Area and to all those interested in the Dominican culture by organizing ongoing events.