Music: Merengue dominicano
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recently declared merengue as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This achievement has filled with joy the Dominican nation and singers performing this musical genre.
Controversy still remains on the exact date of its birth, however, it is known that merengue was heard in Cibao region for the first time, the central mountain range of the Dominican Republic, in the mid-19th century. At its origins, the first three ethnic groups that crossed the island shared and developed instruments such as African bass drum, Spanish string and maracas which were an evolution of guiro de bangaño. Those who know this rhythm, state that merengue is singular due to its inner joy, as it is a partner dance, its unique musical structure and last, its lyrics diversity describing love and lack of affection, country romance, epic singing or social complaints.
In the 1930’s, the merengue singer Toño Abréu set a fashion for many sticky themes, remarkable for its sharp and ironic lyrics. "When Trujillo was a guard, the lieutenant told him that he was going to be president to 'finish the silliness.' During 31 years of Dictatorship, merengue became a political instrument to gain the sympathy of the most humble classes who did not have access to international genres and fashions like the boogie-woogie boom.
The paternity of merengue is attributed to the musician and colonel Juan Bautista Alfonseca Baris and, also to Francisco Antonio Lora Cabrera, known as Ñico Lora. The latter learned to play the accordion acquiring the skill of his French grandfather, who arrived at the island with the troops commanded by General Leclerc.
The Navy band was the cradle of learning for Félix del Rosario, another merengue's great father. He was distinguished, together with his group "Félix del Rosario y Sus Magos del Ritmo", by the influence of bossa noova and jazz in his compositions. That is why its song Carmen is a fusion of guaracha and Latin jazz.
The traditional orchestration was introduced by the musician Luis Alberti, as from the Big Band format, including trumpets, trombones and saxophones. In the seventies, there were many successful musical groups that defined a generation, such as Los Paymasí orchestra, a group of noticeable popular feeling since the rhythmic pattern of the drum plays a leading role.
Today, merengue remains the insignia of Dominican culture. In relation to the instrumental part, the baritone sax and slide trombone have practically disappeared, first, because just few people can play it and secondly, for economic reasons. It is a transformation that has driven its evolution towards new concepts and forms. This musical identity that lasts in time and goes beyond a rhythm or a song, has become a symbol for the history of the people and its future.