Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dominican Music: Merengue and Bachata

Rinconcito: Sunday night dancing in la Zona Colonial
A combination of traditional, European, and African music and dance, merengue and bachata grew up in the countryside of the Dominican Republic. Though heavily European-influenced music dominated the popular music scene throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, Dominican musicians began to incorporate the countryside’s staccato and organic rhythms such as zapateo, sarambo, and mangulina. When European immigrants brought the accordion in 1870, merengue started to rise from the heady fusion that had been simmering.

Merengue hit the big stage in the early 1900s, as it started to become accepted by the Dominican upper classes, especially after Trujillo decided to use merengue in his campaigns. Merengue legends include Toño Rosario & Los Hermanos Rosario, Sergio Vargas, and Johnny Ventura – all of which are part of the “Golden Years” of merengue in the 1980s.

Breaking down a merengue classic
Developed during the early 20th century, bachata was not embraced by Trujillo or the wealthy and was not even recorded until 1961. With rural influences both lyrically and musically, bachata continued to be looked down upon by the mainstream until the 1980s when established artists – such as Luis Segura, El Chivo Sin Ley (Ramoncito Cabrera), and Antonio Gómez Salcero – were able to reach larger audiences.

Showing those drums no mercy
Grammy-award winning Juan Luis Guerra was the first to sneak bachata into the musical repertoire of the upper-middle class with his smooth renditions sometimes confused for merengue. Aventura, a New York-based pop bachata sensation, catapulted bachata onto the iPods and into the hearts of fans across the world by performing across the US. Other popular bachata artists include Anthony Santos, Zacarias Ferreira, and Frank Reyes.


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