The Dominican Republic offers great diversity and a wealth of rhythm, harmony and instrumentation in its musical culture. Within the most representative genres, merengue comes in first place, followed by the bachata and the “son”, songs with a lively danceable beat.
Merengue is the Dominican national dance par excellence. Its origins coincide with the nation’s birth and developing identity and culture. Its influences are Spanish, African and indigenous, and its words are the narrations of daily life in the country. Merengue’s basic musical formation is made up of the “cuatro” a four-stringed guitar, the “guiro” a percussion instrument, and the tambourine. In 1870, the “cuatro” was replaced by the accordion, with the saxophone, the bass and the piano also appearing later. One of the “merengue” variants from the end of the XIX century was the “Perico Ripiao” (literally “Ripped Parrot”), which originated in Santiago. It was played in a bar called Perico Ripaio by a musical band that substituted the guitar for the accordion.
Despite the merengue’s popularity and variations among the popular masses, the upper classes refused to accept it because its literary texts lacked lyrical elegance. But the essence of its rhythm reached popular festivals and the efforts of highbrow musicians ensured its later introduction into upper classes. The wider acceptance started in 1930 with the arrival of the tyrant Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who used merengue for his electoral campaign. At this time, merengue was circulated to areas in which it was not previously known. It was at a party for the elite of the city of Santiago when merengue managed to penetrate high society. The maestro Luis Alberti was requested to compose a merengue for the occasion. He agreed, writing and performing “Compadre Pedro Juan” (Friend Pedro Juan), which caused a furor and became the anthem of the merengues. Merengue then began to spread around the whole country and became a launch point for the popularization of Dominican rhythms around the world. Today, it has an endless number of exponents who have spread it around the world including: Joseíto Mateo, Juan Luis Guerra, Johnny Ventura, Milly Quezada, Wilfrido Vargas, Fernando Villalona, The Rosario Brothers and Eddy Herrera.
Bachata originated as a string bolero and arose from popular spontaneity. Among its creators is the musician José Manuel Calderón from the 1960’s, whose greatest hits were “Salvame” (Save Me), “Luna” (Moon) and “Serpiente Humana” (Human Snake). Then the singers Rafael Encarnación and Luis Segura popularized bachata for the masses, followed later by Luis Vargas and Anthony Santos who contributed a new language. Finally, the musical group Aventura, created a very particular “bachata”, because of its fusion with other musical styles, creating a very young and modern genre. The names of Juan Luís Guerra and Víctor Víctor should also be mentioned for the great wealth of lyrics and musical compositions they created for “bachata”.
Between 1870 and 1890 this genre appeared around the cities of Montecristi and Puerto Plata. There exists a theory that “son” is a hybrid between Hispanic and African elements, which appears to have been derived from the bolero. Its creation was attributed to the Cuban musician and composer Miguel Matamoros.It is unquestionable that the influence of this Cuban musician crossed the borders, enveloping Dominican geography between 1930 and 1950. The Cibao region boasts various “son” groups.
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