Merengue 101: Brief Overview “The National Music of the Dominican Republic”

The post below was written by Edwin FerrerasFerreras hails from the Dominican Republic and (in my opinion) is one of the best Bachata dancers/instructors on the latin dance congress scene today. Edwin loves Bachata, but he is also passionate about merengue dance and music. Many dancers (like myself) begin their quest into latin dance through merengue because of its easy and fun 1-2 basic step count.  Merengue may not be the most popular dance among the latin dance masses, but it is an important one and I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes its way to a congress or social near you. Enjoy!

Today (February, 27th) we celebrate Dominican Independence Day and I was feeling inspired by my deep love for merengue and decided write this little article. Hope you Like, Share, and Enjoy!

“Si estoy cantando merengue me mantengo emocionao’, nadie me puede quitar que yo nací en el Cibao” –Fernando Villalona y Los Hijos Del Rey.

Fernando Villalona y Los Hijos Del Rey

Merengue began making its appearance in the mid-1800s in a northern region of the Dominican Republic, which today is known as El Cibao. Following its prominence it subsequently spread throughout the entire motherland.During Rafael Trujillo’s reign (1930-1938), merengue was officially recognized, and still celebrated today, as the national music of the Dominican Republic.

After Trujillo’s demise, Dominican music industry changed tremendously as the process of migration and urbanization accelerated through the land.

Although merengue music draws many instrumentation similarities to its counterpart/rival Bachata, it is very distinct in feeling and energy. Merengue also shares many similarities to its neighboring genres: Palo, Mangulina, Salve, Gaga, Bachata, and its distant relatives Salsa and Son. Typically characterized as simple, festive, joyful, free-spirited and very interactive, Merengue has several distinct sub-genres including Tipico (perico ripiao), Mambo (urban merengue), Merengue Alibaba (carnival music), Orchestral Merengue, Merengue De Guitarra (bachatarengue), Pambiche (Palm Beach) and more. Each style is played at varying speeds and may be targeted to a certain social economic class, generation, or even gender. Most people in and out of the island simplyen joy all kinds of merengue with little regards to the type, this is in part due to the simplicity and welcoming and almost inviting feeling of its rhythms.

The instrumentation for merengue tipico is typically: Acordion, Guira, and Tambora, although other forms of merengue may also include Bass, Piano, Woodwinds (Saxophones), Brass (Trumpets and Trombone), as well as some others. In the 1990s a wave of new musicians and artists innovated the typical sound by including a bass drum to the line-up. The bass drum was played by the guirero with one foot on a pedal, which beats the drum. This gave merengue a sharper and stronger “kick” to its overall sound which accents on the downbeats making it easier for dancers to feel the rhythm amongst the layers of other instruments. This new “beat” heightened the feel and pulse of the music much like a march.

Some important figures that contributed in the history, progression, and development of Merengue include: Tatico Enrique, El Cieguito de Nagua, Johnny Ventura, Edilio Paredes, Fernando Villalona y Los Hijos Del Rey, Ramón Orlando, Wilfrido Vargas, Jossie Esteban y la Patrulla 15, Sergio Vargas, Juan Luis Guerra, Los Hermanos Rosario, El Zafiro, Peña Suazo, Antony Santos, Geovanny Polanco, El Prodigio, and Omega as well as great female artists such as Belkis Concepcion, Miriam Cruz and Las Chicas Del Can, Fefita La Grande, Olga Tañon, Milly Quezada, amongst others. Many of these artists are still around today making great music and inspiring future generations of merengueros around the world.

There are many books, documentaries, and sources around the world for those looking to learn more about Merengue. There is also an amazing ‘Dominican Studies Institute’ in New York City found inside of City College. The best sources I can recommend, however, are the living legends artists and musicians who are still around today, the music gurus, and the scholars who have dedicated years of field work and research in Dominican arts, culture, and customs.

Of course nothing beats a trip to Quisqueya and visiting the capital or the country side for some good old fashion live perico ripiao. If you’re ever in the D.R., don’t hesitate to ask the Dominican elders any questions you may have about the music or dance, as a deeply rooted and very proud people, most are open and happy to share what they know with anyone as long as they approach in a respectful manner.

There are many books available out there for those who cannot invest time or money on a trip to the island, one of my favorite books to gain more insight on the history of Dominican music is “Merengue and Dominican Identity” by Julie A. Sellers. Feel free to contact me with any feedback, questions or to learn more about Merengue. If you enjoyed this article please help spread awareness and love for this beautiful music by sharing it. Stayed tuned for more articles and thank you for reading.

“Yo soy el merengue, vibración de los Dominicanos. El sentir del quisqueyano y la razón de su existir, soy la inspiración de mi país” –Johnny Ventura

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  1. says: H. Mijail Antón Quiles

    It’s interesting that the article goes all the way back to 1800s but there is no mention at all of Haiti’s mereng/meringue…

    1. says: H. Mijail Antón Quiles

      (and I say that because it seems to be a bit of a loaded subject, maybe even political, as that book by Sellers covers; so it’s interesting to notice that someone from DR talking about history of Merengue does leave Haiti totally unmentioned)

      1. says: Elvin

        Merengue and Bachata, both rhythms born in Dominican Republic for example this year New Dominican Bachata Artist Danny Abreu music is becoming popular for sensual dancing and traditional dancing in Dominican Republic, Online and all over the world.