Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dominican Dance and Music: Moving to the Music

Dance is a social ritual from an early age 

Dominican dance and music are intimately tied together. Below are a few common types of music and dance ranging from early to modern Dominican society.

Areíto Taíno:

An indigenous form of music and dance used to transmit Taíno history orally and visually through words, movements, and melodies. The themes of the songs varied greatly from the amorous, to bellicose, to religious. Instruments used included maracas made of gourds (higüeros), tamboras made from hollowed out trunks, and flutes made of sugar cane or bones, accompanied by the percussion of shells adorning the dancers. This art form was particularly important in the transmission of culture and history from generation to generation, as the Taínos did not have a written language.


Playing the guira
Merengue generally involves the accordion, bass guitar, güira (a metal percussion instrument resembling a cheese grater that is played by rubbing a wire comb against its jagged surface), guitar, tambora (a two-sided drum laid across the lap and played with a stick on one side and the hand on the other), and brass instruments including the saxophone and trumpet. Merengue is danced on a two-four beat, to which dancers’ hips tend to move in a fluid figure eight. This motion has also been compared to that of an eggbeater, which may have given rise to the music’s name meaning meringue, whose stiff peaks are the results of an eggbeater’s frenzied motion.

Merengue Típico or Perico Ripiao

Dance spans all age ranges in the DR
Merengue típico and perico ripiao are nearly interchangeable terms that refer to an up-tempo, more instrumental version of merengue popularized in rural communities of the Cibao in the late 19th century, as probably the oldest kind of merengue. Típico bands use a guitar, guira, tambora drum, accordion, and, more recently, saxophone, and the related dance can be similarly faster and with more movement than other slower merengue songs.


From the same influences that merengue arose came bachata, which employs a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass guitar, bongos, and güira. It has a four-count rhythm characterized by an upward flick of the hips on the fourth beat, almost as if a puppeteer’s string was plucking them in the air.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dominican Music and Dance: Rock ‘n’ Roll

Luis “El Terror” Díaz by Jaime Guerra
Dominican rock ‘n’ roll is one of the few genres that has drawn less upon Caribbean roots, looking to the U.S. and Europe for inspiration. Dominican rock’s humble beginnings grew from such bands as The Masters in the 1970s, followed by Empiphis and Cahobazul, popular in the mid-to-late eighties. Another band formed in eighties by the undeniably influential musician, Luis “El Terror” Díaz, was Transporte Urbano, a unique product of Díaz’s return to Santo Domingo after being thrown into the mix of New York’s punk rock scene.

Toque Profundo
The 1990s were the true renaissance of the “rockeros” in the Dominican Republic. During this period, bands such as Toque Profundo, Arcangel, Tribu del Sol, and Tabu Tek came to the forefront, providing an unapologetic response to the relatively homogenous music scene dominated by merengue. Spain-based JLS (Jodio Loco Sucio or “Screwed Crazy Dirty”), a heavy metal band started up by former Toque Profundo member Leo Susana, has achieved an international following. Also popular is New York-based Aljadaqui, whose pop rock sounds are indicative of the more palatable, mainstream rock in the music scene today. However, the heavy metal of the nineties continues to be received by loyal fans in smaller Santo Domingo venues like Cinema Café and Hard Rock Café, where Toque Profundo celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2010.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dominican Music and Dance: Mambo, Reggaeton and World Music

Singing a palos classic at La Negreta
 After merengue and bachata, mambo and reggaeton are among the more popular
genres of music.

Mambo callejero or mambo violento is merengue’s street-smart urban cousin, employing accelerated counts accompanied by the style and lyrics of rap. Artists such Omega, El Sujeto, Julian y Oro Duro, and El Jeffrey are among the better known artists winning over Dominican youth with their pelvic-thrusting rhythms.

Another brainchild of Dominican urbanity is reggaeton, Latin America’s response to hip hop, though the true pioneers of this genre hail from Puerto Rico. Dominican hip-hop, which employs a crude blend of Caribbean rhythms, is slowly taking root as well with such artists as DKano, El Lapiz Consciente, Del Patio, and Mozart La Para y Villanosam.
Dancing in the street to infectious rhythms

Even beyond these is a new genre generally called “world music,” since it draws from both domestic and international influence. Calor Urbano, formed in 2002, mixes Caribbean rhythms with soul, hip-hop, and a dose of pop to create an immediately pleasing sound that has earned a significant following. Rita Indiana, a published author and former model, along with her band, Los Misterios, has taken on and incorporates reggaeton, electronic, meringue, and everything in between to create something that is authentic, but simultaneously has broad appeal. Lesser-known fusion bands, such as the percussion–heavy rhythms of Batey Cero and ConCon Quemao are strongly influenced by palos, a percussive style of music born in the sugar cane communities (bateyes) throughout the country. At the heart of the Dominican folklore-world music movement are living legends such as Xiomara Fortuna, José Duluc, Irka Mateo, and Patricia Pereyra.

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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dominican Music and Dance: Introduction

It is impossible to speak about Dominican music without discussing dance; they are seamlessly intertwined with each other. The two developed alongside one another, drawing from the same Taíno, European, and African influences and roots. Over the next several weeks, we’ll go  into detail about several types and style of music and dance.

Merengue dancing
Few records remain of early colonial culture, but music was a pastime among slaves and free mulattoes, who blended vestiges of Taino culture, African rhythms brought by slaves in the 16th century, and the melodies of European string instruments. It was not until the mid-19th century that the first true Dominican musical institutions,  especially merengue, began to take shape. Today, the scene is broad and diverse, as the airwaves and the Internet bring notes and moves to the island, and bands like Aventura introduce Dominican song and dance to the rest of the world.  Partner up!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mountain Dreaming: Jarabacoa

Morning in Jarabacoa
Vibrant, cool, and filled with charm, the mountains around Jarabacoa are speckled with enchanting villages, beautiful scenery, and perfect spots for outdoor adventure. Jarabacoa, the largest town in the Cordillera Central, is home to almost 30,000 people, besides all of the weekend visitors. Despite being a major destination, the town maintains an intimate and friendly atmosphere.

Jarabacoa is home to three rivers and therefore to an array of sports like whitewater rafting, kayaking, canyoneering, swimming, biking, hiking, and even hang-gliding.

View from Aroma de la Montaña

Where to Eat

La Fleca Panadería

Flaky croissants and crusty artisanal breads are among the specialties of this cute café as well as sinful desserts and savory finger foods. RD$75- 120; 574-4811; Located on C/ Independencia near the Caribe Tours stop and across from Esso Gas; lipebeltran@hotmail.com; www.laflecajaraba.com

Aroma de la Montaña

For a 180-degree view of the valley of Jarabacoa and the mountains that surround it, head to this upscale restaurant at the Jamaca de Dios hotel. Save room for the fine desserts: the brownie packed with chocolate chips, coconut, almonds, and rum is a favorite. RD$170-990; Located in Jamaca de Dios hotel near the village of Pinar Quemado on the road to Manabao; 829-452-6867/6878; www.aromadelamontana.com

Where to Sleep

A typical country cabin just outside of town
Ramírez Tours

Owned by the energetic Jarabacoa native Altagracia Ramírez, this small company is a wonderful resource for those interested in renting short- or long-term cabins. Señora Ramírez also offers ideas about excursions and other tourism services in the area.
36 Av. La Confluencia; 574-6604; 399-6748; U.S. phone: 347-827-2824; Ramíreztours4@gmail.com


A community organization provides rustic eco-lodges in the remote village of Angostura. The three environmentally friendly lodges sleep six people, and the bathrooms are connected to a biodigestor that powers the complex. The organization offers hiking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting excursions. In addition, trained guides lead Pico Duarte tours that begin at the La Ciénaga trailhead. Approximately three kilometers south of Manabao; contact Marite at 910-7520 or Inocencia at 829-539-8753

Gran Jimenoa

Salto de Jimenoa Uno
Living up to its tagline of “a hidden paradise,” the resort of Gran Jimenoa is certainly the most luxurious in the valley, with an impressive collection of orchids, impeccable landscaping, and excellent service. Though all of the rooms feature large windows, ask for one of the spacious rooms facing the Río Jimenoa to enjoy the view and sound of its powerful beauty. RD$1,225- 14,900 per room; Av. La Confluencia, Los Corralitos; 574-6304/4345; hotel.jimenoa@codetel.net.do; www.granjimenoahotel.com

What to Do

Salto de Jimenoa Uno

This first waterfall on the Río Jimenoa is hidden in the forest, only accessible via a good long hike through the woods. This waterfall is not only 60 meters high but also plunges into a refreshing swimming hole below. The entrance fee directly supports community members who serve as guides. RD$100 foreigners, RD$50 Dominicans; 7 kilometers on the highway toward Constanza next to a restaurant; (motoconcho RD$80-100; taxi RD$250); 271- 8580; 829-828-7708; interpretesdelasmontanas.7@hotmail.com

Salto de Jimenoa Dos

The hike to these 40-meter-high falls is much easier, including crossing a few narrow hanging bridges surrounded by verdant woodlands. The short walk the ends at the stunning waterfall and bathing area. RD$100; 5 kilometers on the highway to La Vega, go right at the fork with well-marked signs

Rancho Baiguate

Whitewater rafting on the Yaque del Norte River
In business since 1975, this company run by the Rodríguez-Ros family offers a multitude of adventure sports while maintaining strong ties to the environment and surrounding communities. Nearly all of its employees are from Jarabacoa, and the ranch has implemented environmentally friendly practices. Although the ranch is all-inclusive, it also offers a la carte activities, like rafting, rappelling, horseback riding, hiking to Pico Duarte, mountain biking, canyoneering, and a zip-line course. Prices vary depending on package; 574-6890, from the U.S. 646-727-7783; rancho.baiguate@verizon.net.do; reservas@ranchobaiguate.com; www.ranchobaiguate.com


A country kitchen of a local about to invite you in for coffee
A small art school, café, and cultural center with local artisanal crafts for sale, this is the place to meet up with creative locals. Stop by for exhibitions of painting, sculpture, photography, film, and music. On Friday and Saturday, there are cultural activities, including live music, starting after 6pm for free or minimal cover. 19 C/ Independencia at C/ Duarte; 574-7055; mwvagaleriadearte@hotmail.com; Open Mon-Fri until 6pm.

For more information, check out the chapter on Jarabacoa in Dominican Republic (Other Places Travel Guide).