Merengue Music

Merengue Songs, in some ways, have inspired a lot of people to have a positive outlook on life, including me. The music, no matter how I’m feeling on certain days, just makes me feel a little happier after listening to it. I feel like I want to get up and dance , which is a great way to get your exercise in as well. Below is a little bit of merengue history, so if you don’t already know, you can learn about the music a lot of us enjoy listening to so much.

Merengue music and it’s stunning dance rhythms originated by combining the European contra dance with African drumming traditions. It utilizes the five-beat cinquillo rhythm, the one that is used in the Cuban habanara, Argentinian tango, and Brazilian samba. The Cuban son had a huge influence in merengue songs and music as it’s structure is really interchangeable in the way it brings out a theme and continues to a spur-of-the-moment part. Its melody is more intuitive, dancing to it centers more on hip movements than complex steps. Merengue dance was once thought to be so licentious that it was banned in Puerto Rico in 1849.

Dominican Republic’s scholars refused to recognize merengue’s African roots until the 1970′s. In fact, Dominican merengue was born in the slower Haitian mereng and traveled to the Dominican Republic in the mid 19th century.

Though rural, folk styles of the merengue ultimately grew, the initial merengue bands performed the music in a ball-room for the Dominican privileged. The merengue songs featured some or all of these instruments: the tambora (double-sided drums) guitars, an accordion, the guira, and last but not least the percussion.Although various ballrooms in the countryside banned merengue, the music blossomed in less conventional settings.

Cibaoan merengue, which was born in Cibao, the region to the north and west of the capital city of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, around the 1850′s, ultimately set the stage for the next era of merengue.Cibaoan merengue is also known as merengue tipico cibaeño, played with groups of tambora, guira, saxophone, and accordion. Cibaoan merengue songs had a shuffling four-beat rhythm that was easy for people to dance to. Merengue tipico became the music that captivated the nation. Francisco “Nico” Lora and Antonio “Tono” Abreu accordionists, were the most outstanding bandleaders from 1916-1924. Cibaoan merengue no doubt was constituted as the genre of the Dominican nationalist music.

Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961 really heralded the Cibaon merengue. Trujillo wanted to set the Dominican Republic’s national identity in his own persona. By revamping merengue as a civilized ballroom dance, he thought that would differentiate Dominican music from Cuban and Puerto Rican music.

In the mid-1930′s another version of Cibaoan merengue was originated, the Perico ripiao. This type of merengue music emphasized accordion solos. Perico ripiao literally means “ripped parrot”. The source of this name has been translated in two ways. This may not be wholly precise, but one was that the name pertained to the lowly musicians who played the music could only afford meat from an disemboweled parrot, and two, it was the name of a bordello. Perico ripiao is the oldest style of merengue still performed today.

One of the first stars to come out in the 1960s was Juan de Dios Ventura, better known as Johnny Ventura. Early in his career, he worked in Luis Merengue Icon Johnny  VenturaPerez’s orchestra. Johnny ultimately formed his own band. Johnny Ventura named his band the “Combo-Show”, in 1964. Ventura introduced a type of merengue that was to a degree influenced by Rock and Roll.

Ventura’s dominance as merengue king of the 1970′s was taken over by another great merenguero, Wilfrido Vargas. Wilfrido Vargas overturned merengue into the music that it is today. He sped up the tempo to very fast speeds. Wilfrido Vargas also had an impact in comprising outside musical influences, such as American hip-hop, Colombian cumbia, and the Haitian konpa. Vargas’ goal was to expose merengue songs and music to a wider international audience.

In the 1980′s, merengue also saw a shift in it’s style, the maco beat. The maco beat or aka, the mangue beat, comprised of a two-beat rhythm unlike the rolling four-beat Cibaon style of merengue. This new two-beat rhythm had a more key African maco beat. The maco beat was first pioneered by Cheche Abreu.

Other early notable pioneers of merengue include Juan Luis Guerra, Bonny Cepeda, Jossie Esteban y La Patrulla 15, Sergio Vargas, Las Chicas del Can, Milly Quezada, and Los Hermanos Rosario.

Some of the better merengue artists out today feature, Omega El Fuerte, Elvis Crespo, Fulanito, Grupo Mania, Olga Tañon, El Cuco-Toño Rosario, who started out as one of the members of Los Hermanos Rosario. There are other tremendous merengue artists out there, these are just a few of my current favorites.