Two of the most popular forms of music to come from the Dominican Republic are merengue and bachata. Merengue tends to be played in 2/4 time and can be played anywhere from moderato to presto. Most often merengue music will feature the güira (a metal scraper), the accordion, and the double-headed tamboura. Of course, merengue bands today will often use electric instruments as well and can also utilize styles from other musical genres such as salsa and rock. Oftentimes, the choruses of these merengue songs will be in call-and-response form. The lyrics to these songs generally utilize a certain poetic license, especially irony and double entendres.
Starting in the 1960s, merengue today also has a dance that is associated with the music as well. During the time that Rafael Trujillo was president, he declared merengue music and the dance associated with it the national music and dance of the Dominican Republic. In merengue dancing, the couple holds hands, faces each other standing close, and sways from side to side. Even though the dancers will separate, do twists and turns, they will always return to holding hands and facing each other. Even though the tempo may be quick, the upper body generally stays calm. It’s thought that this dance and the music may have originated from Africa and was brought over through the slave trade.
Bachata music started in the poorest areas, the shantytowns. And because of that it had a bad connotation in the beginning; however, it has become loved by all Dominicans, regardless of their socio-economic status. It emerged as an offshoot of Cuban bolero music and is heavily dependent on guitars (namely lead, rhythm, and bass guitars), bongos, and güiras.
I’ve discovered and re-discovered several Dominican musicians and bands. One of the most famous bands for bachata is Aventura – the only one that I had known previously. I had downloaded a song by them featuring Don Omar years ago.
One rock band that I discovered is Toque Profundo, but all I could find available was a few songs. I really like their style – they almost remind me of how Linkin Park used to be back in the day. I wish I had a whole album.
One CD that I did find through my library is by Rita Indiana y Los Mysterios. This group took native Taíno drumbeats and tribal music and merged it with modern rock. I listed to the entire CD while driving home through a snow storm, and I have to say that I like this. It seems kind of far-fetched in the worlds of music, but it works somehow. A couple of other bands that I came across that I liked were Fulanito, Projecto Uno, and Ilegales.
And of course, as someone who has studied piano since the age of 14 and studied it in college even, I’m always drawn to piano music, especially jazz piano. And if you combine jazz piano with Latin jazz, you come across Dominican jazz pianist Michel Camilo. While I really liked the album called What’s Up?, my library didn’t have it, so I checked out Mano a Mano instead, which is also very well done. I also listened to it driving to work through a snow storm.
Up next: the food