“La mamá de la mamá de la mamá de la mamá….”
This repetitive albeit infectious chorus was heard around the world last year, giving little to no chance to listeners who would automatically have the urge to dance to this catchy song. This song called “La mamá de la mamá” by Dominican artist El Alfa, featuring El Cherry Scom, helped legitimize a sub-genre within the Latinx Urban music landscape called: Dominican Dembow.
Pretty much a direct descendant from the world-wide phenomenon that is Reggaeton Music, Dominican Dembow takes cues from early iterations of what was called Underground music in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The beginnings of the musical revolution are tied to Caribbean history. The neighboring islands, placed in the Caribbean, saw many of their habitants migrate to New York in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and found a home in a metropolitan landscape foreign to them. Quickly settling and creating their own barrios, this group shared the geographical space with African-American citizens, who were also establishing themselves in the concrete jungle.
In the ’80s, second and third generation Boricuas and Dominicans who grew up together with African-American kids, started merging and creating their own New York urban sub-culture that would culminate in the creation of Hip Hop, amidst an environment that often presented social inequality, racism, drugs, and violence as a normalized reality in their communities.
Between the ’70s and ’80s, some of this Caribbean diaspora found the need to reconnect to their roots and moved back to their islands. This movement would bring, amongst other things, the Freestyle and Hip Hop sounds to two already extremely musical ecosystems dominated by Salsa and Merengue music. It is this influence mixed with new music coming from Jamaica and Panama and brought to Puerto Rico by visionary DJ’s like DJ Barón López, were the ingredients necessary to create a serendipitous reaction that resulted in a world-wide musical dominating movement.
“Dembow” is a Jamaican slang term originating from Jamaican “Patois” dialect referring to “they bow” and popularized by Jamaican singer Shabba Ranks, whose song by the same name was very popular in both islands. Artists like El General, Nando Boom, Mad Lion, Plies, Sister Nancy and others kept using this “dembow” beat in songs that became classics in the streets of Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, inspiring a generation of young artists. In Puerto Rico, this inspiration, and the mix of dembow with Reggae and Hip Hop, gave birth to Reggaeton. As gangster rap became the dominant Hip Hop style in the early 90’s, that also reflected in the early days of Reggaeton, when it was known as Underground: an extremely crude, free-for-all, anything-goes, style of rap, done to the beat of “Dembow”. Dominicans embraced the sound and while their Boricua counterparts blew up and eventually evolved their sound to the Reggaeton we know today, the Dominican musical landscape became dominated by Bachata music. But where Reggaeton and Hip Hop gave a voice to the rawness of the streets, Bachata could not provide the same, as it focused more on romantic and heartache-related lyrics.
This left the terrain ripe for an even newer generation of Dominicans living in the island’s low-income areas to take a page out of Reggaeton’s origins story, and go back to the roots. They took the “Dembow” beat, sped up the tempo, and with very raw, and almost tribal instrumentals, created beats that were accompanied by risqué and festive lyrics similar to the early days of the Underground. To put their own signature on this new style, this group of artists led by El Alfa, Pablo Piddy, La Materialista, and Chimbala amongst others, came up with repetitive and easy-to-remember chorus lines that automatically sounded like party time. Thanks to the internet, this new sub-genre began claiming followers, becoming a staple at any street gathering or party in both Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Its popularity grew, until established artists like Bad Bunny saw the potential in the movement, and with collaborations like the one between the afore-mentioned star and El Alfa in “Demo Ga-Ge-Gi-Go-Gu”, the Dominican Dembow became validated and supported by the Reggaeton industry, therefore reaching a much broader audience.
Today, the Urban Music’s new juggernaut is led by the female artist known as Tokisha, who is dominating the charts with her no-holds-barred, sensual style. But she does more than that. She represents the personality of a whole movement that in the end is about empowerment to the streets, identity, and an artistic expression that roots itself in freedom.
As this new musical movement matures each day, it keeps getting recognition from all sorts of artists like Anuel AA, Jowell & Randy, and Rosalía. Even Madonna has swam in the Dominican Dembow waters with great success. Poised to become a recurrent name in future music awards seasons and charts, this sub-genre now provides great financial opportunities for all those involved in the movement, grabbing the attention of big brands that are eager to include the Caribbean rhythm into their advertising and marketing strategies.
Dominican Dembow grows everyday, walking through the musical landscape holding hands with its parent Reggaeton. It’s safe to say that it’s here to stay, stay, stay, stay, stay, stay….
Check out the latest example of Dembow in Advertising in the brand new social media campaign from Meow Mix® that features a Dembow style jingle: