There are a many different genres of Dominican music. Among those that arose out of the Dominican African heritage are plena, a metered, responsorial work song, salve which is often ceremonial either sung acapella or accompanied by panderos and other African instruments and gaga, a form of music tied to the Haitian-Dominican gaga societies and usually associated with individual sugarcane settlements.
Bachata evolved from bolero, a Pan-American style said to have originated in Cuba. Bachata combines traditional Latin/Caribbean rhythms with African elements. The typical instruments used are guitars (lead, rhythm and bass), bongos and güiras (see explanation above). The lyrics often feature tales of heartbreak and woe.
Two musical styles that originated in the Dominican Republic have become world famous: merengue and bachata. Both bachata and merengue have their own unique dance style.
The Dominican Republic is part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. It occupies about 2/3 of the island, while the remaining third is the country of Haiti.
The music of the Dominican Republic is primarily influenced by West African traditions, with some minor European, and native Taino influences. The Dominican Republic is mainly known for its merengue and bachata music, both of which are the most popular forms of music in the country.
The music most often associated with the Dominican Republic is merengue. While merengue has been part of the Dominican musical repetoire since the mid-19th century, it was in the 1930s that merengue became the dominant musical genre on the island. Under the auspices of dictator Rafael Trujillo, merengue rose from music that was considered low-brow to the music that dominated radio waves for over 3 decades.
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Bachata is a Dominican music style that originated in the early twentieth century. It arose in the rural countryside and poor neighborhoods of this Caribbean country, but has since spread to other parts of Latin America and even Southern Europe.
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Visitors to Santo Domingo can see live performances of traditional music and dances on Friday and Saturday nights at Plaza España and enjoy the live music on Sunday nights at the Monasterio de San Francisco ruins. In addition, bars and nightclubs throughout the city frequently have live music.
The Dominican bourgeoisie at first dismissed bachata as worthless and it was therefore given the name bachata, meaning a rowdy lower-class fiesta (party). Until fairly recently, bachata was informally banned from Dominican radio and television. Despite this, bachata flourished and has now gained wide acceptance, not only in the Dominican Republic, but world-wide. One of the most popular bands making bachata music was the former band Aventura, which split in 2011.
Guerra's 2007 album La Llave De Mi Corazon took the world by storm, garnering every major award and bringing a renewed awareness of the vibrant music of the Dominican Republic.
A traditional merengue band features an accordion, a two–sided drum called a tambora, and a güira (a cylindrical sheet of metal with small bumps on it that is played with a stiff brush).
Internationally known merengue artists include Fernando Villalona, Juan Luis Guerra, Eddy Herrera, Toño Rosario & Los Hermanos Rosario, Los Toros Band, Sergio Vargas, Wilfrido Vargas, Johnny Ventura and Bonny Cepeda.
Merengue is a musical style that dates back to at least 1854. It developed among the lower classes and remained marginalized through the early twentieth century. It was not until the dictator Trujillo rose to power in 1930 that merengue gained wide acceptance.
Bachata is also another form of Dominican music and dance that has grown in popularity. It originates from rural areas and has more of a melancholic beat to it. Its subjects are often focused on life in the country and romances.
Today, the other genre that is part of the Dominican musical landscape is bachata. The word 'bachata' has been part of Dominican culture for a long time, but it was only in the 1960s that it could officially be labelled a musical genre. In fact, until the last decade, bachata was virtually unknown to Latinos outside of Dominicans (and their neighbors) but that has changed. Bachata is quickly overcoming the popularity of merengue as the favorite Dominican musical genre.
Merengue - From the Dominican Republic to the Dancehalls of the World
In the Dominican Republic dance and music are an integral part of everyday life. Merengue is the most popular form of Dominican dance and the musical life.
It was not until the 1990s that this great musical genre began to receive the recognition it deserves. Today, it is as popular as salsa and merengue in many Latin American dance halls.
Conservatorio Nacional de Música is the academy of music of the Dominican Republic. It was founded by José de Jesús Ravelo (Don Chuchú), one of the main Dominican composers.
Of humble origins, Trujillo actively promoted this lower-class music and dance style. He even forced musical groups to compose merengues praising his political party and made it mandatory for dance bands to include merengues in their repertoires.
In the Dominican Republic dance and music are an integral part of everyday life. Merengue is the most popular form of Dominican dance, and dominates the musical life too. Developed in the mid-19th century, and adapted from European dances, with Afro-Caribbean flavors and lively rhythms. It is considered the music of the Dominican people- and truly reflects society. Merengue forms the base of most traditional Dominican songs and has a huge presence in bars, streets, businesses and homes.
Listen to the opening of the merengue song "No Me Faltes Nunca" played by Cana Brava. Notice the fast 2/4 beat and the use of the tambora.
Columbus sailed to Hispaniola following his sojourn in Cuba. The first permanent settlement, at Isabella, was established in 1493. The Spaniards found the docile Taino indians living there (as they found them in Puerto Rico), but this indigenous population soon began to die off. In 1502, the Spaniards started replacing the Taino with an African workforce, a pattern that was repeated through most of Latin America.
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The 1980s saw increasing Dominican emigration 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.
Recently, rock and hip hop music artists in the Dominican Republic have become more prominent, with growing scenes in Santo Domingo and Santiago; the younger generations are turning more towards Western influences.
Music From Dominican Republic
The most famous Dominican musical artist today is undoubtedly Juan Luis Guerra. In the 1980s, Guerra took the limelight with his salsa influenced merengue sound, incorporating high-quality production in his albums. In 1984 he formed his band "Juan Luis Guerra y 440," where the 440 were his back-up vocalists and the number 440 represents the number of cycles per second of the 'A' note.
Merengue was originally the national dance of the Dominican Republic and has African and Spanish influences. It is characterised by:
Congo Music of the Holy Spirit can be heard in the village of Villa Mella. This music is highly African in origin and associated with the Afro-Christian sect. It is basically tambores / drum music. The drums are all different sizes from very large to the smallest drum known as Alcahuete. Other instruments used are the maracas, canoas or sticks. This music has maintained its original form and is still sung in call and response, one person sings out a line and all others reply in song also.
There are also several underground Metal concerts occurring occasionally mainly in the cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago, where teenagers and young adults usually not satisfied with the other genres express themselves.
Throughout most of its history, bachata was associated with the poor and was considered too rustic and backwards for the mainstream music scene. In fact, the name bachata is a descriptive term that means a rowdy, lower-class party.