Backpacking the Dominican Republic for six weeks was transcendent. I met many open-minded, worldly travelers who embodied the essence of the word free.
During my one-week stay in Cabarate, one of my hostel roommates had just completed a seven-month bicycle trip throughout Latin America. One night while playing cards in our shared room, there was a blackout. I turned on the flashlight from my phone and my roommate put on his headlights. While we had backup lights covered, one of the things I wish I had was a compiled list of good Dominican music to share at this moment.
In addition, the island holds such a good backpacking vibe that this is essential! Luckily you won’t have to experience this sad lack of tunes. Since returning home, I have created a playlist for all of you to share, along with some music history to educate your fellow travelers. Enjoy, and check out the playlists I have made for trips to Puerto Rico and Cuba as well!
Merengue, the Dominican Republic’s nationalistic music, once rejected up until the 1970s by the European-identified Dominican elites who refused to recognize its African roots. It has a distinct beat pattern of 2/2 and 2/4 time, highlighting the five-beat cinquillo rhythm, the foundation of Cuban habanera.
After the assassination of Trujillo, music was less regulated and musicians such as Johnny Ventura emerged in the 1960s. He presented a new form of merengue in the 1970s, influenced by American rock and roll and disco. Early hit: Un Poquito Para Atras. Consequently, Rita Indiana y los Misterios arose in 2008 using traditional merengue sounds and fusing tastes of alternative rock and electronic music.In 1982, Las Chicas del Can, an all-female merengue group from Santo Domingo (who later became Miriam Cruz y Las Chicas) continuously performed hits throughout the eighties.
Perico Ripao: Transformed during the American occupation from 1916 to 1924 and deriving from merengue, perico ripao is a four-beat rhythm originally played with string instruments such as the tres and cuatro but replaced with the accordion, an instrument that was brought over by the Germans who traded it for tobacco in the late 19th century.
Famous bandleaders such as accordionist Francisco “Nico” Lora and Antonio “Toño” Abreau were famous at this time. Típico musicians continued to materialize in the late half of the 20th century such as godfather of modern merengue típico, Tatico Henríquez as well as Rafael Solano who added the bass drum. In the 1990s, younger band leader, El Prodigio added the congas, timbales and keyboard.Bachata, the Dominican blues, consists of five instruments: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass guitar, bongos and güiro. The genre evolved from bolero, a Cuban musical style. Initially known as barrio music, soldier’s music and lowlife created by the lowest of the low in Santo Domingo where they played in cabarets and whorehouses in the capital. The music industry saw the birth of bachata in the 1960s with Jose Manual Calderon recording the first bachata singles.
Juan Luis Guerra turned the lower class bachata into a sweet genre in the 1980s. Prime example: Bachata Rosa. A change of the acoustic Spanish guitar to the electric steel string in the 1990s, gave bachata a new sound, becoming an international phenomenon. Aventura, created their own unique style by infusing the sounds of hip-hop, R&B and English and Spanish lyrics. Obsesión, released in 2002, broke airwaves.
Palo, an Afro-Dominican holy music, mostly played at religious ceremonies using mostly skinny drums, which is critical to the development of the dance and sound. It is not necessarily a song but more of a call and response type of improvisation style similar to bomba y plena.
Dembow was developed in the mid-1990s influenced by hip-hop and rap whose stars are young people from slums originally not created for artistic expression but a legal and easy access to money without falling to criminal activities. Artists such as Chimbala has developed the genre to what it is today.
Dominican Rock emerged in the 1980s by Dominican groups and soloists starting with Luis Dias who was inspired by punk and various other rock styles. He created his band, Transporte Urbano in 1982 in the island. Later in the 1990s, bands such as legendary Toque Profundo gained national recognition.
Does this music inspire you to travel the Dominican Republic? Who is your favorite?