Puerto Plata GAMECHANGERS: José Manuel Cobles

Inside Puerto Plata’s series on “Puerto Plata GAMECHANGERSwill highlight and give well-deserved praise to amazing individuals, past and present, who have had a tremendous impact on Puerto Plata and its surrounding areas. We will be featuring both revered and controversial figures and look forward to stimulating dialogue from you, our readers!

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Our series on key figures in Puerto Plata’s history begins with a tribute to the venerable José Cobles! Born in 1923, José Cobles is affectionately and appropriately nicknamed ‘Puerto Plata’ after his birthplace. Influenced as a child by relatives who were musicians, Puerto Plata was always drawn to the music and rhythms of his homeland. However, it wasn’t until 1947 at the age of 24, that he was able to purchase his first guitar. It was during his early 20s while living in Santiago, Dominican Republic that he attained his beloved nickname.

Puerto Plata’s sound was an eclectic mix of bolero, guitar merengue, and Dominican son and for many years he performed in the underground music scene in Santiago, playing primarily in cabarets and brothels. This was not entirely by choice; the 30-year dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo enforced merengue as the national music of the Dominican Republic. The merengue of Trujillo’s reign was primarily played with the accordion and other string instruments rather than the guitar typically used in ‘country’ merengue. Since Puerto Plata’s style of music was suppressed by the dictatorship, recordings of guitar music were not allowed, thereby forcing musicians of the time to make their living in other trades. Puerto Plata worked as a carpenter and despite the imposed musical suppression he continued to master his craft.

With the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, the early 1960s brought well-needed change in the cultural climate of the Dominican Republic. Although not fully embraced immediately, guitar music slowly began to regain its popularity within the country.

Puerto Plata the GAMECHANGER

The music of Puerto Plata and other musicians who played during his earlier years was eventually given an official name. Now known as bachata, a very popular form of Latin American music enjoyed by millions to this very day, Puerto Plata is considered a pioneer and a living legend of this musical genre.

What is even more exemplary: Puerto Plata released his first recorded album in 2007 at the wonderful age of 83. Entitled “Mujer de Cabaret”, his debut album is reminiscent of a stifled time in Dominican cultural history. Composed during the Trujillo years and released in 2009, the classical love songs in Puerto Plata’s second album, “Casita de Campo”, are a compilation of beautiful, romantic lyrics and lively dance tunes.

José ‘Puerto Plata’ Cobles’ talent and resilience cannot be mistaken. Both of his internationally acclaimed albums are testimonies to his craft and now, at 92 years of age, Puerto Plata continues to play his beloved guitar and gift us with his music.

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