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Merengue


The beautiful island of the Dominican Republic is inhabited by happy people who love to express themselves through lively music. Merengue music is an intrinsic part of the Dominican culture.  more...


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The beautiful island of the Dominican Republic is inhabited by happy people who love to express themselves through lively music. Merengue music is an intrinsic part of the Dominican culture.

Instruments
Traditional merengue is an upbeat blend of the guira, tambora and guitar. The Güira is a metal cylinder with a prickly exterior that is played by running a scraper up and down along the bumps. The güira is made by painstakingly hammering a nail on a sheet of metal (often, a large empty can of oil) to form rows of evenly spaced bumps. The tambora, a double-sided drum played with a wooden stick or simply the hand, is largely responsible for the merengue’s rhythmic style. The accordion is also used in a style of merengue called perico ripiao. Today you can likewise find merengue songs with piano, electric guitars, and saxophone incorporated into the melody.

History
It’s easy to see the African roots of Merengue music brought over by slaves as far back as the 1400’s. Initially, these humble origins of merengue kept it from being widely accepted in high society. But oddly enough, the Dominican Republic’s worst dictator (Rafael Leónidas Trujillo) was the figure who helped merengue to achieve its current popularity. Because Trujillo was from a humble family in small town, he liked merengue and used it in his campaign for the presidency. The catchy beat quickly caught on and spread throughout the country.

Dance
More typical versions of the merengue dance can be seen performed at festivals and other cultural events throughout the year. Smiling Dominican women wave large brightly colored skirts of bright colors as they move their hips to the music. The men lead the women in choreographed turns and group formations. But at local parties couples dance more casually.

A widely circulated legend says that merengue started off as a faster more vigorous dance. One night a Dominican soldier was invited to a party, but because his leg was injured, he moved more slowly and dragged his leg. The good natured guests did not want the soldier to feel self-conscious, so they imitated his limping style – and thus created one of merengue’s most famous dance moves.

Songs
Although there are some merengue songs with truly poetic and well thought out lyrics, there is also a good amount of hits written about funny situations in everyday life. Whether they are romantic or comedic, all merengue songs have a chorus. These often consist of the lead singer singing a phrase and the chorus or backup singers repeating it.

Current trends
This charming music and its fun dance have spread across the globe. Sadly, the tradition of learning the merengue dance has been dying out among the younger generation in the Dominican Republic, and the proliferation of reggaeton with its mechanical repetitive beat can be heard coming from more and more Dominican radios each day.

Give it a whirl
What better place to learn an art than in the country that made it famous? Merengue is very simple to learn, and if you’ve never been introduced to Latin dancing this is the perfect one to start with. On your next trip to the Dominican Republic, let the tempo pulse through your soul and get you out of your seat for some merengue dancing.

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