Welcome back to our series on exploring Latin culture and language through music! In today’s episode, we are heading back to the island nation of the Dominican Republic to learn about one of their cultural cornerstones, merengue music!
We are going to cover:
- Merengue history and origin
- Popular merengue music
- And how you can tell merengue apart from other Latin sounds like salsa and bachata!
By the end of this series, we can’t promise you will be a professional dancer, but we can definitely turn you into a Latin music expert. Let’s get into it!
Listen to this song while you read to get the ultimate merengue feels! See if you can stop yourself from dancing (I bet you can’t!)
What is Merengue?
A Caribbean Music and Dance Sensation!
Regions: Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico
If you’ve ever heard this song, Suavemente (a must-have on every Latin playlist), then you’ve heard merengue!
Often confused with salsa for its fast beat and indubitably sexy sound, merengue is not Cuban at all but actually the official music of the DR.
Merengue History Timeline
From its beginnings in slave bondage to its use as a political weapon, merengue’s rollercoaster history gives us extraordinary insight into Latin America’s culture today.
Merengue: Slave Roots
The two-step dance that is merengue, with ankles almost touching as if bonded together, is said to have its beginnings in the sugar-beet plantations of the DR. Slaves danced their way through strenuous labor despite having had their feet tied together – life and celebration continued despite the oppression. Fast forward to the turn of the 20th century and merengue music is considered crude and immoral, often played in low-income rural neighborhoods and brothels.
Merengue Music Grows By Force
Rafael Trujillo, the dictator of the DR from 1930 until his assassination in 1961, took a great liking to merengue music having been from an impoverished background himself. His regime was responsible for popularizing the music on their “state-sponsored radio”, using the music to create national solidarity and a sense of unity for Dominicans. Not to mention the epic songs he commanded to be written about himself eulogizing his professed leadership qualities and attractiveness.
Merengue Music Today
Merengue tremendously grew in popularity throughout the ’70s and ’80s, even surpassing salsa on international radio. New York Dominican and Puerto Rican bands brought the music and dance to the international stage. Today, merengue can be heard at just about every Latin party in the U.S. and all throughout Latin America (but more specifically Caribbean coastal countries, not necessarily Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay).
Merengue v. Salsa: Differences Between Merengue and Salsa
Merengue (originating in the DR) is often confused with salsa (originating in Cuba and consequently Puerto Rico, Colombia, NYC, and LA) because both genres are quick and sound spicy to the ear. However, merengue is usually more casual, lighthearted and festive, with slow turns taking place over 4 beats.
Salsa dance is known for being more intricate and having quicker, sharper turns. Salsa is very fast-paced, which is why most Latinos recommend merengue for beginners! For more on salsa, click here!
- Origin: Merengue is from the DR, and is not to be confused with salsa!
- Where Can I Hear It: At every Latin party or boda (wedding), all over the Caribbean, Central America and La Gran Colombia (Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador).
- Fun Fact: The merengue dance is much easier than salsa or bachata and highly recommended for newcomers learn the basic step here!
Popular Merengue Music: Merengue Mix!
Here’s a Pimsleur Merengue Playlist with the hottest merengue sounds for you to dance to, learn lyrics or put on at your next party!
- Los Hermanos Rosario- La Duena del Swing
- Oro Sólido- La Morena
- Juan Luis Guerra- La Bilirrubina
- Elvis Crespo- Tu Sonrisa
- Eddy Herrera- Pegame Tu Vicio
- Juan Luis Guerra- Las Avispas
- Elvis Crespo- Suavemente
If you haven’t had a chance, check out our other articles in this series!