Music of the Dominican RepublicThe Dominican Republic is known primarily for merengue, though bachata and other forms are also popular. Dominican music has always been closely intertwined with that of its neighbor, Haiti (see Music of Haiti).
BachataThe bachata evolved from bolero, a form native to Cuba, and is a somewhat slower, more guitar-oriented music.
SalveSalve is a call-and-response type of singing that uses panderos, atabales and other African instruments. Salves are highly ceremonial and are used in pilgrimages and at parties dedicated to saints.
GagáGagá is a form of music that developed in parallel with Haitian rara. It evolved on plantations and is often spiritual, used during baptisms and other religious ceremonies.
MerengueSwift beats from guiro or maracas percussion sections, and wild accordion or saxophone accompaniment are characteristic. Other instruments frequently include a sax, box bass, tambora drum or guyano. The rhythm dominates the music, and is the most characteristic feature of the genre. It is unsyncopated and includes an aggressive beat on 1 and 3. While overwhelmingly Dominican in origin, it has also been historically linked to the music of Haiti, which shares a border with the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola. Traditional, acoustic merengue is best-represented by the earliest recorded musicians, like Angel Viloria and Francisco Ulloa. More modern merengue incorporate electric instruments and influences from salsa, rock and roll and hip hop. Choruses are usually in groups of three and are often constructed as a call-and-response section. Live, wild dancing has long been commonplace, and is a staple of many of the genre's biggest stars. Lyrically, irony and oblique references to issues of sexuality and politics.
The origins of merengue are disputed. It may be related to Haitian méringue (mereng), which is very similar except in its guitar-based sound, while merengue is dominated by the accordion. Another cousin could be UPA, a Cuban form that includes a section called a merengue and arrived in Santo Domingo in the mid-1800s, imported from Puerto Rico. European contradanza was another major influence. Other scholars have claimed that merengue is a distinctively Dominican form, developed after the Dominican victory at Talanquera by soldier named Tomas Torres who deserted, falsely predicting a loss, and that it is a fusion of Spanish decima with African plena music. A final seminal influence was contact with a major trading partner, Germany, through which the accordion was introduced to Dominican society. At the time of its development, merengue was attacked by newspapers and the upper-class, who preferred an older form of dance music called tumba. It was called vulgar and obscene, as have many forms of folk music.
Merengue continued to be limited in popularity to the lower-classes, especially in the Cibao area, in the early 20th century. Artists like Juan F. García, Juan Espínola and Julio Alberto Hernandez tried to move merengue into the mainstream, but failed, largely due to risque lyrics. Some success occurred after the original form (then called merengue típico cibaeño) was slowed down to accommodate American soldiers (who occupied the country from 1916-1924) and couldn't dance the difficult steps of the merengue; this mid-tempo version was called pambiche. Major mainstream acceptance started with the rise of Rafael Trujillo in the early 1930s.
During the reign of President Trujillo, merengue was promoted as the national form of expression for Dominicans from the 1930s until his assassination in 1961. Trujillo popularized the music, which moved to urban settings and added piano and brass instruments in large merengue orchestras. During Trujillo's reign, merengue which continued to use an accordion became known as perico ripiao (ripped parrot, for unknown reasons).
In the 1960s, a new group of artists (most famously Johnny Ventura) incorporated American R&B and rock and roll influences, along with Cuban salsa music. The instrumentation changed, with accordion replaced with electric guitars or synthesizers, or occasionally sampled, and the saxophone's role totally redefined. In spite of the changes, merengue remained the most popular form of music in Dominica. Ventura, for example, was so adulated that he became a massively popular and influential politician on his return from a time in the United States, and was seen as a national symbol.
The 1980s saw increasing Dominican emmigration to Europe and the United States, especially to New York City and Miami. Merengue came with them, bringing images of glitzy pop singers and idols. At the same time, Juan Luis Guerra slowed down the merengue rhythm, and added more lyrical depth and entrenched social commentary. He also incorporated bachata and Western musical influences with albums like 1990's critically-acclaimed Bachata Rosa.