September 22, 2023

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Rhythms of Latin America: Merengue

2 min read

Merengue ended up being so instilled in Latin American culture that it was lastly acknowledged in 2017 as one of UNESCOs Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

“A pedir su mano”, by Juan Luis Guerra y su 440.

Another name synonymous with merengue is that of Dominican Juan Luis Guerra, singer, songwriter, and manufacturer with a profession spanning 4 decades and multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy awards under his belt.

Of course, lots of others have left their footprint on the merengue stage for great, like Los Hermanos Rosario, Las Chicas del Can, Olga Tañón, Elvis Crespo, Bonny Cepeda, and Milly Quezada.

The category got an unprecedented impulse by Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, the Dominican dictator from 1930 to 1961, who turned it into nationwide music of his country. When merengue reached the United States audiences thanks to groups like the one from Ángel Viloria y su Conjunto Típico Cibaeño in the 1950s, it was during this time.

With its roots deep within the Dominican Republics colonial past, merengue emerged near the midpoint of the 19th century as a staple of the rural class expanding to the nations city centers and beyond.

To speak about merengue is to speak about a Caribbean music genre with an irresistible power to draw everybody– from Caracas to New York– to the dancefloor.

In the same style as salsa, merengue was born of the combination of African rhythms with European notation, and a good dose of instruments from both cultures. Merengues distinguishable rhythm is two-four, though it is not unusual to hear four-four beats in some tunes.

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“Volveré”, by Wilfrido Vargas Orchestra, task. Rubby Pérez.

There are essentially two designs of Dominican merengue: the one called perico ripiao, stemming from the Cibao region and requiring accordion, tambora, and güira; and the big or orchestral band merengue, which developed in New York and lots of Latin American cities using a more complicated instrumentation, like the saxophone or the synthesizer.

Among the biggest exponents of merengue, we might count Wilfrido Vargas, the Dominican vocalist, band, and trumpeter conductor whose prominent work helped lay the foundations of the contemporary version of the genre at a worldwide level since the 1980s.

“Compadre Pedro Juan”, by Luis Alberti sung by Francis Santana.