For Dominicans, this is a special week of reflection. Around this time every year, events, carnivals, and parties pop up with celebratory flags and red, blue and white fashion. The celebration this year feels a little different. Due to the political climate, many are choosing to celebrate their patriotism by protesting in the streets, banging pots and pans, and singing rebellion songs in their respective cities, homes, and schools. For Dominicans, music and rebellion are one and the same.
I got a chance to speak with two Dominican musicians, Nairoby Duarte and Alicia Baroni, who believe in the power of expression as a means to overcome hardships. We chatted about Independence, their musical roots, and their feelings as Dominicanas living on the island who are witnessing firsthand the political unraveling happening this year as elections brought community protests demanding answers from the government for non-constitutional actions and rumored election rigging.
Both Alicia and Nairoby grew up with music aficionado parents which inspired their love for the art from an early age. Nairoby Duarte, a native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, was born into a musical family. Her musician father took her under his wing and encouraged her to develop her talent. Nairoby is a first-call performer of jingles and her voice is prominent on radio and TV. She has also performed with icons of Dominican music, including Pavel Nuñez, Maridalia Hernández, Frank Ceara and many others – as well as Puerto Rican singer Danny Rivera. For the past few years, Nairoby has been the lead vocalist for the fusion band, Retro Jazz, a group produced and directed by the musician of note, Pengbian Sang.
Alicia Baroni is a seasoned songwriter who has had major hits performed by historic salsa artists such as Tito Rojas (“Esperándote”) and Raulín Rosendo (“Uno se cura” “Deseo”), as well as stellar merengue artists such as Manny Manuel (“Mi primer beso”), Fernandito Villalona (“Mis amaneceres” “No me dejan verla”) – to name only a few. Alicia’s latest single, “Orgullosamente dominicana,” was arranged and produced by Junior Mayol, a super talent from Higuey, Dominican Republic.
What do you feel are the roots of Dominican music?
Alicia: Unarguably, Dominican music has African roots. African rhythms stayed within our culture and with a mix of Spanish guitar helped influence so much of the music on the island. Our music is just like us, a mix of origins.
Nairoby: Our roots are African, of course! What we know as merengue, bachata, soul, ballads all are influenced by African beats and rhythms. It’s where we come from. It’s what unites us.
What does Dominican independence mean for you?
Alicia: For me, it means the courage and resilience that our leaders showed when they had a vision for gaining freedom and liberty for our country with whatever sacrifice.
Nairoby: The founding fathers fought for our voice and our independence. We have to be conscious of what we choose. We have to prepare ourselves and not allow anyone to strip us of our independence. We must know where we come from and honor our voices and our rights.
How do you feel about the current events and political climate in the Dominican Republic?
Alicia: As a Dominican woman I feel hurt and intimidated. I feel like they are hurting my pride and patriotism for my country. But I feel overjoyed that our country, our people, have woken up and are refusing to let the government strip them of their rights. As an artist, I have been feeling very sensitive to what’s been happening. It’s inspiring me to sing songs that give my people hope, protest songs. I can’t close my eyes and pretend this isn’t the reality we, as Dominicans, aren’t living. This is our truth.
Nairoby: I feel worried because our democracy is at risk. Our democracy is the heart of our country. But, I am hopeful that the country wakes up and that we continue to fight for knowledge and equity. Without equality, the younger generations won’t have hope.