Ramon Isidro Cabrera, ‘El Chivo Sin Ley’ figures prominently as one of the handful of bachateros whose enormous popularity and irresistible performance helped bachata break free of social stigma. Born in a country town near the resort city of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, El Chivo and guitar greats Edilio Paredes and Augusto Santos have been musical collaborators since the early 1970s. In 1974 Chivo and Augusto achieved huge success with ‘El hijo sin padre’ – launching Chivo’s career as one of bachata’s most popular and prolific singer/songwriters.
Chivo derives his name from his hugely popular song “El chivo sin ley”, which he recorded in 1975. ‘Chivo sin ley’ means lawless goat in Spanish; a goat which Chivo says “Anda suelte, y nadie se lo come” which translates as ‘Roams free and is nobody’s dinner’. Anyone experiencing El Chivo’s belting voice and expressive performance can attest immediately to the appropriateness of the name.
As with many of bachata’s great stars, Chivo was born to a musical family. His father was a master of decima, an improvised vocal and poetic style with origins in Moorish Spain. He describes as a child having contests with his father in poetic improvisation. It is not surprising that Chivo’s namesake song is actually a decima adapted to the bachata form.
Chivo began his career as a guirero, an instrument he learned performing in Afro-Dominican palo groups. He went on to become a skilled instrumentalist and percussionist and besides singing plays tambora, guira and rhythm guitar. His tambora is on Julio Angel’s ‘El salon’, and the song ‘El chivo sin ley’ is on Bachata Roja’s sequel – scheduled for release in 2009.
In the early 1980s, Chivo, Ramon Cordero, Edilio Paredes and Cuco Valoy collaborated to create a performance series called “Lunes de Amargue” (Amargue translates loosely as the bitter-sweet feeling of unrealized love). The series was so successful that copycat ‘Noches de amargue’ surfaced and bachata began to be referred to as “Musica de amargue”, a term still used today. The success of these shows helped bachata reach new more affluent audiences and was an important prelude bachata’s emergence internationally. Chivo and Cordero’s vocal magnetism and dramatic stage presence joined with Edilio’s expressive virtuosity proved irresistible. The famous collaboration is now reborn in the Bachata Roja’s concert series.
A note on the artist's name: "El Chivo Sin Ley" has at times also been known artistically as "Ramoncito Cabrera" and also as "El hijo de Quisqueya". This can be a source of confusion as CDs, tapes and 45s of his music have been issued under all three names.
-- Benjamin de Menil