Merengue típico

Merengue típico

Merengue típico (also known as merengue cibaeño or colloquially as Perico ripiao) is a musical genre of the Dominican Republic. Merengue tipico is the term preferred by most musicians as it is more respectful and emphasizes the music's traditional nature.



Merengue típico is the oldest style of merengue still performed today (usually in the Dominican Republic and the United States), its origins dating back to the 1850s. It originated in the rural, northern valley region around the city of Santiago called the Cibao, resulting in the term "merengue cibaeño". Originally played on the metal scraper called güira, the Tambora, and a stringed instrument (usually a guitar or a variant such as the tres). Stringed instruments were replaced with two-row diatonic button accordions when Germans began to travel to the island in the 1880s as part of the tobacco trade. Later, the marimbula, a bass lamellophone related to the African mbira, was added to fill out the sound

Early Origins

Afro-Caribbean slaves, notably those of the Palo and Vodou Religions, practiced sacred rituals involving intense drumming and sacrifices, similar to those in the African homeland they came from. The rhythms of those rituals, which would become merengue, were played on drums, especially the tambora, a double-headed drum that was originally rope-tuned. Ethnomusicologists have confirmed that there was a wide distribution of tambora-like drums throughout the African continent. In addition, the slaves used shakers, which would later be replaced by the güiras, and guitars, which were obtained because of their common distribution.

From the 1880s-1900s, there were many changes brought about merengue. The güira, also called a guallo or Guayo (literally "grater"), was made by poking holes in a steel can and playing it with a fork. The accordion also came about, and new dances like the polka and mangulina were introduced by German immigrants and businessmen who would trade these instruments for valuable Dominican tobacco. These dances would and could have rivaled the merengue, but a change in leadership would make merengue reign supreme.

Prior to 1930, the music was considered immoral. Its more descriptive and colorful name, perico ripiao (literally "ripped parrot" in Spanish) is said to have been the name of a house of ill repute in Santiago where the music was played. Moralists tried to ban the music and the provocative dance done to it, with little success. Dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo brought accordionists with him on the campaign trail, and once he took power, he ensured that merengue was embraced as a national music by all classes of Dominicans.[1]


Much controversy exists over the debate of the exact origins of merengue tipico. Even though the European accordion, the African tambora, and the Taíno güira/güiro all play a significant role, many believe that the music is purely from just one of the three said cultures. Even more refuse to believe the connection between merengue and African slaves, and view the music rather as a Dominican interpretation of the European contradanza. Merengue star Joseito Mateo claims that merengue broke the borders between African and European styles, and was a fusion where "the whites had their music, and the blacks had their drumming".[2]

Even others believe that accordionist Nico Lora started the music, and there was another style of music called the tumba at the time which merengue was considered less popular as. However, the merengue later displaced the tumba, and became more popular in the 1930s.[3]

One theory states that the merengue's origins came from African slaves who mimicked the white upper-class dances. However, since these dances were considered too dull to be enjoyable, the Africans made an upbeat in addition to the dance.[4]

Changes, Fusions, and innovations


After Trujillo's assassination, Dominican society changed rapidly as processes of urbanization and migration accelerated. Merengue tipico changed too. Through the efforts of artists like Fefita la Grande, El Ciego de Nagua, and particularly Tatico Henriquez, the music became faster and more technically demanding, while incorporating new instruments. They replaced marimba with electric bass, and added saxophone and congas.


In the 1990s a new generation of musicians added a bass drum, played with a foot pedal by the guirero, and timbales, played by the tamborero for fills (timbales in merengue tipico were believed to have been first incorporated by Ray "Chino" Diaz, a famous Dominican percussionist and tambora player). Agapito Pascual is credited with creating the new style termed "merengue con mambo" in 1987 with his recording, "La Vieja y su Pipa." Merengue con mambo refers to a merengue with a second section based on hard driving rhythms and riffs played by the accordion and saxophone together. This is the dominant style today that has been further explored by artists like Ricardo Gutierrez [5] (El rey joven del acordeon) El Prodigio, Geovanny Polanco, Raul Roman (son of accordion legend Rafaelito Roman), and Kerubanda.[6] Artists like Krisspy and Aguakate have pushed genre boundaries even further with more mambo and fusions with other rhythms like reggaeton, and many artists like Fulanito have fused merengue-style accordion playing with rap music. A new crop of merengue musicians, notably Limi-T 21, have attempted to create an orchestra merengue and perico ripiao fusion on songs like "Que Lo Bailen". The bpm of the music has also transformed, originally between 130 to 140 [tempo], but today is sometimes sped up from 160 to190 tempo.


Today merengue tipico actually consists of several different rhythms. Merengue derecho, or straight-ahead merengue, is the kind of fast-paced, march-like merengue Americans are most used to hearing. Pambiche or merengue apambichao is said to have developed during the American occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924), taking its name from the "Palm Beach" fabric worn by American soldiers. Its tempo is usually slower than merengue derecho, and it can be recognized by the more syncopated rhythms in both bass and tambora. It is probably the rhythm most beloved by típico aficionados: dancing to it is said to require more skill since it is more complicated and syncopated than merengue derecho, and it helps to set the típico genre apart since it is used infrequently by orquesta groups. Guinchao is a third and more recently-developed rhythm that is a combination of the other two. The once-common paseo, a slow introduction during which couples would promenade around the dance floor, is now common only in folkloric presentations. In the past, other dances like the mangulina, carabiné, polka, guarapo, and zarambo were also played on accordion, but are now generally heard only at folkloric presentations.

Merengue terminology

In merengue, various slang is used to signify instruments, quality, the act of playing, etc. Below are a list of terms.

  • Botao- slang for a solo or the act of doing a solo. Usually on tambora, güira, accordion, or conga.
  • Guallo- means "grater", another word for the güira instrument.
  • Mambo- not to be confused with the Cuban music style of the same name, "Mambo" in a merengue context can be either merengue de orquestra or merengue tipico, but a style of playing that involves heavy emphasis on conga, tambora, and cowbell riffs. Believed to be first popularized by accordionist Agapito Pascual, Merengue con Mambo sometimes involves solos, but is essentially a riff of saxophone or accordion repeating over a heavy rhythm. Most songs have a section within it dedicated to the Mambo, either nearing towards the end of the track or past the second verse of the song, but some songs are completely based on this style. Merengue con mambo is almost always played with a merengue derecho rhythm on the tambora, but güira rhythms can vary. The Pambiche rhythm is rarely seen because an average tambora player cannot play a pambiche as fast as a merengue derecho rhythm, because the former has more strokes on the drum involved in play than the latter. Also can be used to shout out in songs, popularized by the likes of Geovanny Polanco, Aguakate, and El Prodigio.
  • Golpe- a rhythm for güira, tambora, or conga.
  • Cuero- generally means cowhide in Spanish, but in merengue refers most of the time to a tambora skin.
  • Chivo- means goat, but refers to a goatskin for tambora.
  • Merengue derecho- "straight" merengue, the kind which most are familiar with. Also the simplest rhythm for tambora, essentially rim-slap-rim-open, but sometimes played even simpler. Can be played the fastest.
  • Pambiche- another dance similar to merengue, which most merengue bands perform at some point. Also a tambora rhythm usually played slow, but occasionally fast when a combination of rhythms are used in the song. Goes slap-low-low-high-low-rim-rim-slap-rim-rim-slap. Has a few variations, also.

Notable musicians and songwriters

Merengue Tipico standards

Below is a list of merengue tipico standards and which instrument parts they are renowned for. Most merengue standards are performed by two or more merengue artists or accordionists, often in a competition to see which artist can play the best rendition.


External links

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