Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A crisp, jaunty 2/4 dance rhythm originating in the Dominican Republic in the 1840s, said to be a descendant of the contradanza. Rural instrumentation incl. the accordion, which swept the country in the late 19th century; the barrel- shaped, double headed tambora drum, beaten by the open hand at one end and with a stick at the other, alternately hitting the head and wooden rim; and the metal g]auu[iro or scraper, played with a kind of wire fork to give a hard hissing sound (the g]auu[iro player usually doubles as lead singer). The alto sax was adopted, in a style reminiscent of New Orleans Creole clarinettists. The name (literally 'meringue') believed to have been imposed because dancers movements resembled a whisk beating egg white and sugar into meringue; polite upper class society rejected the dance as vulgar until Rafael Trujillo, from the grassroots and a practitioner of the dance, became dictator '29; then it became DR's national dance. Urban brass- led bands retained the tambora, g]auu[iro and sax; some of the earliest bands to record incl. Damiron and Chapuseaux (pianist/composer Simon Damiron and singer/composer El Negrito Chapuseaux, both Dominican born), who played an Americanized version '40s; more authentic merengue introduced to NYC '50s by Juanito Sanabria Orchestra and Angel Viloria and his Conjunto Tipico Cibae¤o, both featuring singer Dioris Valladares (see his entry). In the '60s veteran DR bandleader, singer, composer, arr. and prod. Johnny Ventura spearheaded a tendency noted for its double entendre lyrics; still going strong in the '90s, he has a parallel political career. Another notable veteran DR composer, singer, leader Cuco Valoy switched from duo work to organize a twelve-piece band '75, incl. a variety of Latin rhythms in his albums. During mid-'70s DR bandleader, trumpeter, singer, composer, prod. Wilfrido Vargas emerged; his Punto y Aparte! '78 on Karen marked a watershed, track 'El Barbarazo' in particular seen as 'new merengue'. In the early '80s merengue became a major force, due to significant Dominican immigration in NYC; the pace of the style became more frantic and the concerts and LPs became more popular than salsa. Vargas was in the vanguard, starting from pure merengue but incorporating traces of soca, cadence, funk, rap, etc. Other leading bands and artists during '80s incl. Bonny Cepeda, Jossie Esteban y La Patrulla 15, Las Chicas del Can, Millie y Los Vecinos (with vocalists Millie and Jocelyn Quesada), Sergio Vargas, the New York Band, Conjunto Quisqueya, Alex Bueno y La Liberacion, Fausto Rey and Freddy Kenton. The merengue boom began to slow down by '86; from late '80s into '90s most recorded merengue became increasingly undistinguished and disposable, exceptions incl. the experimental work of international superstar Juan Luis Guerra, who also made extremely successful use of the Dominican rural bachata form. Other hit-makers of the mid-'90s incl. Ca¤a Brava (founded by Ringo Martinez, mus. dir. of Jossie Esteban y La Patrulla 15), Olga Ta¤on (former member of Las Nenas de Ringo y Jossie and Chantelle), Los Sabrosos del Merengue, Limi-T 21, To¤o Rosario, Zona Roja, Victor Roque y La Gran Manzana, Ramon Orlando (one of Valoy's 14 sons), Pochy y su Cocoband, Kinito M‚ndez, Oro Solido, La Banda Gorda. The biggest sensations of '95--6 were chart-toppers Rey de Corozones '94, and Autentico '96 both on Merengazo/RMM by ex-Los Sabrosos del Merengue vocalist Manny Manuel (b 1 Dec. '72, Orocovis, Puerto Rico). Merengue hip-hop or house became a major force '96, its most successful exponents being Proyecto Uno, Los Ilegales and Sandy and Papo MC (Sandy Carriello, b 14 Sep. '72, and Luis Deschamps, b 11 Jan. '73, both Santo Domingo). The m‚ringue played in Haiti is very different, a much gentler music originating in the early 19th century: there the term covers styles from a polite piano music, often with violins, to an urban combo style.