Music of the Dominican Republic

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Music of The Dominican Republic
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Media and performance
Music festivals Carnival
Nationalistic and patriotic songs
National anthem Quisqueyanos Valientes
Regional music

The music of the Dominican Republic is primarily influenced by West African, European, and native Taino influences. The Dominican Republic is mainly known for its merengue and bachata music, both of which are the most popular forms of music in the country.


Dominican music


Merengue is a musical genre native to the Dominican Republic. It has a moderate to a very fast 2/4 rhythm played on güira (metal scraper) and the double-headed tambora. The accordion is also common. Traditional, accordion-based merengue is usually termed merengue típico and is still played by living accordionists like Francisco Ulloa, Fefita la Grande, El Ciego de Nagua, and Rafaelito Román. More modern merengues incorporate electric instruments and influences from salsa, and rock and roll. Choruses are often sung in a call and response form by two or three back-up singers, or more traditionally, by the musicians playing tambora or güira. Beginning in the 1960s, dancing became a part of the singers' work with Johnny Ventura's Combo Show format, and is now a staple of many of the genre's biggest stars. Lyrically, irony and double entendres are common Merengue continued to be limited in popularity to the lower classes, especially in the Cibao area, in the early 20th century. Artists like Juan F. García, Juan Espínola and Julio Alberto Hernández tried to move merengue into the mainstream, but failed, largely due to social prejudices. Some success occurred after nationalistic feelings arose among the Cibao elite who resented the U.S. occupation of the country from 1916–1924. Legend has it that at this time the faster (merengue típico cibaeño) was slowed down to accommodate American soldiers who couldn't dance the difficult steps of the merengue; this mid-tempo version was called pambiche. Major mainstream acceptance started with Rafael Trujillo's rise to power in the early 1930s.

Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who seized the presidency of the Dominican Republic in 1930, helped merengue to become a national symbol of the island up until his assassination in 1961. Being that he was of humble origins, he had been barred from elite social clubs. He was therefore resentful of these elite sophisticates and began promoting the Cibao-style merengue, forcing all social classes to participate in the low-class dance. At Trujillo's command, virtually all musical groups had to compose merengues praising Trujillo's dictatorship, its guidelines and actions of his party. Trujillo even made it mandatory for urban dance bands to include merengue in their repertoire. Also, piano and brass instruments were added in merengue-oriented big bands, a trend towards upward mobility popularizing by Luis Alberti's group in Santiago de los Caballeros. On the other hand, merengue that continued to use an accordion became known (rather disrespectfully) as perico ripiao (ripped parrot). It was because of all this that merengue became and still is the Dominican Republic's national music and dance. In the 1960s, a new group of artists (most famously Johnny Ventura) incorporated American R&B and rock and roll influences, along with Cuban salsa music. The instrumentation changed, with accordion replaced with electric guitars or synthesizers, or occasionally sampled, and the saxophone's role totally redefined. In spite of the changes, merengue remained the most popular form of music in the Dominican Republic. Ventura, for example, was so adulated that he became a massively popular and influential politician on his return from a time in the United States, and was seen as a national symbol.

The 1980s saw increasing Dominican emigration to Europe and the United States, especially to New York City and Miami. Merengue came with them, bringing images of glitzy pop singers and idols. At the same time, Juan Luis Guerra slowed down the merengue rhythm, and added more lyrical depth and entrenched social commentary. He also incorporated bachata and Western musical influences with albums like 1990's critically acclaimed Bachata Rosa .

Música Congos del Espíritu Santo

Congo Music of the Holy Spirit can be heard in the village of Villa Mella. This music is highly African in origin and associated with the Afro-Christian sect. It is basically tambores / drum music. The drums are all different sizes from very large to the smallest drum known as Alcahuete. Other instruments used are the maracas, canoas or sticks. This music has maintained its original form and is still sung in call and response, one person sings out a line and all others reply in song also.


Salve is a call-and-response type of singing that uses güira, panderos, palos (see next section) and other African instruments. Salves are highly ceremonial and are used in pilgrimages and at parties dedicated to voodoo saints. Salve is a ritual inspired by religion and music with roots in both African and Hispanic cultures. [1] Salve is related to palo that is played in a lot of the same contexts and rhythm, but with different instruments. The name comes from the Salve Regina, a catholic psalm, and many still sing a sacred, a cappella salve that preserves the medieval modes of old Spanish hymns. The ecstatic salve played at religious parties however, is all about percussion – featuring large numbers of tambourines playing interlocking rhythms and a melodic drum called the balsie, whose player alters the pitch by applying pressure with his foot. Salve may be played in fewer parts of the country but it's one of the best-known sounds, largely because it's the sound of choice in Villa Mella, a poor suburb of the capital often thought of as the epicenter of Afro-Dominican traditions. The salve group of Enerolisa Nuñez, from Villa Mella, is one of the most widely listened to - thanks to her inclusion in merengue-star Kinito Méndez's salve-merengue fusion album A Palo Limpio as well as an excellent recording of her group by the Bayahonda Cultural Foundation.


Palo, also known as Atabales is a Dominican sacred music that can be found throughout the island. The drum and human voice are the principal instruments. Palo is played at religious ceremonies - usually coinciding with saint's days - as well as for secular parties and special occasions. Its roots are in the Congo region of central-west Africa, but it is mixed with European influences in the melodies. Palos are related to Dominican folk Catholicism, which includes a pantheon of deities/saints (here termed misterios) much like those found in the Afro-American syncretic religious traditions of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, and elsewhere. Palos are usually associated with the lower class, black and mixed populations. They can be seen in different regions of Dominican Republic, but with variations.

Palo music is played on long drums termed palos.The word palos means trees, and therefore all Dominican palos drums are instruments made from hollowed out logs. The head of the drum is made of cowhide and it is attached to the log portion with hoops and pegs in the Eastern region, or with nails in the Southwest. There is a master drum (palo mayor) which is the large, wide drum played with slimmer drums (alcahuetes) alongside: two in the East or three elsewhere. Palos are usually played with guiras, which are metal scrapers. They may also be played with maracas, or a little stick used to hit the master drum, called the catá. The Dominican region in which the palos are played determines the form, the number of the instruments, and how they are played.

Palos are associated with the Afro- Dominican brotherhoods called cofradías. Originally, the brotherhoods were composed solely of males. As time progressed, females and family inheritance maintained the brotherhoods’ sanctity. Each brotherhood is devoted to a particular saint. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the brotherhood is to honor the saint with a festival. Historically, cofradías were established on principals similar to those of the Mediterranean guild-based societies and those founded by Africans that inhabited southern Spain. Through colonization and the slave trade, these traditions were brought to the Dominican Republic. However, the cofradías are not limited to the Dominican Republic, they are found in other parts of the Americas as well, where they may be adapted to Native-American folk Catholicism, particularly in Mexico and Central America.

Palo music is generally played at festivals honoring saints (velaciones) or during other religious events. The configuration of instruments present depends on the region in which these events take place. Palo drums are played with the hands, held between the legs, and tied to the palero's waist by a rope. The three paleros each play a distinct beat on their palos, which ultimately blend together. These rhythms vary depending on the region as well. For example, in the East, the "palo corrido" rhythm is popular, while in San Cristóbal, one may be more likely to find the "palo abajo" rhythm. While they play their drums, one of the paleros simultaneously sings verses of a song. The surrounding audience often invokes spirits of ancestors or saints, and it is not unusual to encounter participants becoming possessed at these events.


Bachata is a style of music that inhabitants of shantytowns call their own to own, meaning they call it theirs before anyone else gets it. Though this may seem like a negative connotation, one should remember that bachata has been widely accepted through many, though not all, classes of Dominican society. Bachata evolved from bolero, a Pan-American style said to have originated in Cuba. The guitars (lead, rhythm, and bass) are the principal instruments in bachata. They are accompanied by the bongo and güira

The Dominican bourgeoisie at first dismissed bachata as worthless and it was therefore given the name bachata, meaning a rowdy lower-class fiesta (party). Until fairly recently, bachata was informally banned from Dominican radio and television. Despite this, bachata flourished and has now gained wide acceptance, not only in the Dominican Republic, but worldwide. One of the most popular bands making bachata music was the former band Aventura, which split in 2011, but came back for a new album in 2019

Dominican rock

Dominican rock is also popular among younger and older crowds of the Dominican Republic. Dominican rock is influenced by British and American rock, but also has its own sense of unique style. The rock scene in the Dominican Republic has been very vibrant in recent years, spanning many genres of rock such as pop rock, reggae/rock, punk, metal. Dominican rock had started its scene in the early 1980s, when Luis Días & Transporte Urbano, (who is considered to be the father of Dominican rock), came onto the scene and created this genre. Since then, there have been hundreds of Dominican rock bands, with the most successful being Toque Profundo, Cahobazul, Guaitiao, Tabu Tek, Al-Jadaqui Tribu del Sol, Joe Blandino, Vicente Garcia, Álex Ferreira,Top 40, TKR, Poket, La Siembra, La Reforma and others. Rita Indiana y los Misterios are a musical group known for their blend of traditional merengue music with rock. Bocatabu, Dronk, Futuros Divorciados and 42-01 are new Dominican rock groups who are also on the rise.

There are also several underground Metal concerts occurring occasionally mainly in the cities of Santo Domingo and Santiago, where teenagers and young adults usually not satisfied with the other genres express themselves.

Hip hop

Hip hop is a cultural movement developed in New York City in the 1970s primarily by African Americans and Afro-Latinos. Since first emerging in The Bronx and Harlem, the lifestyle of hip hop culture has today spread around the world. One of the places hip hop spread to was the Dominican Republic. The four historic elements of hip hop are: MCing (rapping), DJing, urban inspired art/tagging (graffiti), and b-boying (or breakdancing). The most known extended elements are beatboxing, hip hop fashion, and hip hop slang. All these elements have been carried on into the Dominican Republic since the mid 80s by young immigrants who returned to their mother land, usually from Puerto Rico, New York, Boston and Florida. Dominican hip hop started to gain national popularity in the years 2006 and 2007.[ citation needed ]

Dembow and Reggaeton

Reggaeton came to the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico in the 90's. Dominican reggaeton is called by its original name dem-bow . Dembow uses old reggae and reggaeton beats from mainly Jamaica, Panama, and Puerto Rico. The dem-bow is utiliz making the dem-dow rhythm faster and louder. Dominican reggaeton recording artists include Black Point, Messiah, Monkey Black, Mozart La Para, Juancho and Reychesta of Tres Coronas. Dembow recording artists include Sensato del Patio, El Alfa, Chimbala and Don Miguelo.[ citation needed ]

Art music


The most renowned exponent is Michel Camilo.

Classical music

Conservatorio Nacional de Música is the academy of music of the Dominican Republic. It was founded by José de Jesús Ravelo (Don Chuchú), one of the main Dominican composers.

Related Research Articles

The music of Latin America refers to music originating from Latin America, namely the Romance-speaking countries and territories of the Americas and the Caribbean south of the United States. Latin American music also incorporates African music from slaves who were transported to the Americas by European settlers as well as music from the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Due to its highly syncretic nature, Latin American music encompasses a wide variety of styles, including influential genres such as cumbia, bachata, bossa nova, merengue, rumba, salsa, samba, son, and tango. During the 20th century, many styles were influenced by the music of the United States giving rise to genres such as Latin pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, and reggaeton.

Merengue is a type of music and dance originating in the Dominican Republic, which has become a very popular genre throughout Latin America, and also in several major cities in the United States with Afro-Latino communities.

Bachata is a genre of Latin American music that originated in the Dominican Republic in the first half of the 20th century with primarily African rhythms and also remnants of Indigenous and European musical elements, representative of the cultural diversity of the Dominican Republic population.

Conga Cuban drum

The conga, also known as tumbadora, is a tall, narrow, single-headed drum from Cuba. Congas are staved like barrels and classified into three types: quinto, tres dos or tres golpes (middle), and tumba or salidor (lowest). Congas were originally used in Afro-Cuban music genres such as conga and rumba, where each drummer would play a single drum. Following numerous innovations in conga drumming and construction during the mid-20th century, as well as its internationalization, it became increasingly common for drummers to play two or three drums. Congas have become a popular instrument in many forms of Latin music such as son, descarga, Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa, songo, merengue and Latin rock.

Culture of the Dominican Republic pattern of human activity and symbolism associated with the Dominican Republic and its people

The culture of the Dominican Republic is a diverse mixture of different influences from around the world. The Dominican people and their customs have origins consisting predominately in a European cultural basis, with both African and native Taíno influences.

Cibao Place in Dominican Republic

The Cibao, usually referred as "El Cibao", is a region of the Dominican Republic located at the northern part of the country. As of 2009 the Cibao has a population of 5,622,378 making it the most populous region in the country.

Merengue típico is a musical genre of the Dominican Republic, and the oldest style of merengue. Merengue típico is the term preferred by most musicians as it is more respectful and emphasizes the music's traditional nature. The Instruments that are used are the accordion, bass guitar, güira, conga, and tambora (drum)

Tambora (Dominican drum)

The Dominican tambora is a two headed drum played in merengue music. In many countries, especially the Dominican Republic, tamboras were made from salvaged rum barrels. Performers on the tambora are referred to as tamboreros.

Güira percussion instrument originating in the Dominican Republic, generally used in merengue, bachata, and its subgenres

The güira is a percussion instrument from the Dominican Republic used as a percussion instrument in merengue and bachata, to a lesser extent, other genres such as cumbia. It is made of a metal sheet (commonly steel, and played with a stiff brush, thus being similar to the Cuban guayo and the güiro. Güira, guayo and güiro all have a function akin to that of the indigenous native maracas or the trap-kit's hi-hat, namely providing a complementary beat.

Bachatón is a fusion genre of reggaeton from Puerto Rico and bachata from the Dominican Republic. Bachaton combines bachata melodies and reggaeton style beats, lyrics, rapping, and disc jockeying. The word "bachatón" is a combination of "bachata" and "reggaeton". "Bachatón" was coined and widely accepted in 2005. It is a subgenre of reggaeton and bachata.

José Cobles, better known by his nickname of Puerto Plata, was a Dominican musician. He sang in a style reminiscent of the Dominican guitar tradition of the 1930s and 1940s, when bolero, merengue, and son were all variations of the same Afro-Iberian fusion.

Manuela Josefa Cabrera also known as Fefita la Grande "'La Vieja Fefa'" or La Mayimba, is the most prolific and respected female merengue accordionist of the Dominican Republic. She is also one of the most well-known representatives of the Perico Ripiao or Merengue tipico music genre, along with artists like Tatico Henriquez, Pedro Reynoso, El Ciego de Nagua, El Prodigio, Rafaelito and Raul Roman, Geovanny Polanco, Francisco Ulloa, and others.

Krency Garcia, better known as El Prodigio, is a famous merengue típico accordionist from Cabrera, Dominican Republic. He is known throughout the genre for his rapid instrumental solos, his origination of fusion in merengue tipico with genres like jazz, and his rivalry with fellow accordionists, Geovanny Polanco and Kerube. While the latter two are slightly more traditional, El Prodigio is more experimental, and has included instruments such as trombone, trumpet, and wurlitzer piano in his lineup, along with the standard accordion, tambora, güira, conga, electric bass, and saxophones of today's merengue tipico.

Tatico Henríquez, considered one of the best accordionists of merengue tipico, was born in Nagua, Dominican Republic. His career began in the 1960s and the early 1970s. He was known for his skill on the accordion and the addition of new instruments to a standard merengue tipico band.

Luis Alberti Musician, composer

Luis Alberti was a Dominican Merengue musician, arranger, conductor, and author of significant popular songs such as Compadre Pedro Juan and many others performed and recorded by noted interpreters with diverse backgrounds.

Meren(gue)house/Merenrap or also called Electronic Merengue is a hip hop music style formed by blending Dominican merengue music with rap, dancehall reggae and hip hop. The mix of Latin music, house music and dancehall started in NYC in the late 80's in club mainly by Puerto Rican DJs. Puerto Rican rapper and singer Lisa M is the first to combine merengue with rap in her second album relsead in 1990. Merenhouse usually combines a rap style of singing (talk-singing) with actual singing. It has instruments that are typically in merengue music, such as saxophones, trumpets, accordion, bass, guitar, güira, tambora (drum). However, they can be combined with electronic sounds or even electronic sounds sampled from the actual instruments. Sampling music means to take a sample or portion of a sound recording to reuse it in a song. Merenhouse is very upbeat for dancing, like house music. It is hard to identify merenhouse based on its time signature and rhythm alone. Some merenhouse music is in a fast 2/4 beat and has typical merengue style rhythms. Some also is in a slower 4/4 beat, identifying more with the hip hop style. Merenhouse can be characterized mostly by the instruments/electronics used and the combination of vocal styles.

Trio Reynoso also known as "The Kings of Merengue Tipico" are considered to be one of the best musical groups of perico ripiao or merengue tipico. Trio Reynoso was composed of singer/accordionist Pedro Reynoso, percussionist Francisco Esquea, singer and güira player Domingo Reynoso, and marimbero and güirero Antonio Rosario Almonte(chirichito) who is known as one of the best güireros of all time and they laid the foundations of a new local mainstream called bachata-merengue. They were considered the most popular Latin group during the Trujillo and Post-Trujillo era. They became a well-known group in parts of Latin America other than the Dominican Republic such as Cuba and Puerto Rico. After the death of Pedro Reynoso in July 18 of 1965, Trio Reynoso had to get a new accordionist and lead singer. In the end, it came out to be Tatico Henriquez, who in 1966, recorded his first song with the group called "Lo Que Tu Me Pidas". Some well notable songs that they have recorded were "Juana Mecho", "El Gallo Floreao", "Canto De Hacha", "Juanita Morel", "Alevántate", "Chanflin", "Mi Mujer De Oro", "Maria Luisa", "El Picoteao" and "La Lisa". Tatico Henriquez would go into the footsteps of Pedro Reynoso and become one of the greatest accordionists of the Merengue Típico genre. He is also the most popular artist of the merengue típico genre that has sold more records than any other artist in the history of Merengue Típico.

Palo is an Afro-Dominican sacred music that can be found through the island. The drum and human voice are the principal instruments. Palo is played at religious ceremonies - usually coinciding with saint's days - as well as for secular parties and special occasions. Its roots are in the Congo region of central-west Africa, but it is mixed with European influences in the melodies. Palos are related to Dominican folk Catholicism, which includes a pantheon of deities/saints much like those found in the Afro-American syncretic religious traditions of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, and elsewhere. Palos are usually associated with the lower class, black and mixed populations. They can be seen in different regions of Dominican Republic, but with variations.


  1. Kanellos, Nicolás (1993). Handbook of Hispanic Culture-Literature. Houston, Texas: Arte Publico Press. p. 305. ISBN   9781611921632.