Music of the Dominican Republic

Music of the Dominican Republic

The music of the Dominican Republic is known primarily for merengue, though bachata, salsa and other forms are also popular. Dominican music has always been closely intertwined with that of its neighbor, Haiti (see Music of Haiti).


Folk music


Merengue is a musical genre native to the Dominican Republic. Swift beats from güira or maracas percussion sections, and drums such as the tambora. The accordion is also common, and is mostly heard in merengue típico. Other instruments influences by Cuban son and mambo music frequently include a piano, saxophone, trombone and trumpet. The box bass, tuba or guyano are rare but played. The rhythm dominates the music, and is the most characteristic feature of the genre. It is not syncopated and includes an aggressive beat on 1 and 3. While Dominican in origin, it has also been historically linked to the music of Haiti, which shares a border with the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola, most notably that of Haitian méringue and that of Haiti's national music compas. Traditional, acoustic merengue is best-represented by the earliest recorded musicians, like Angel Viloria and Francisco Ulloa. More modern merengue incorporate electric instruments and influences from salsa, and rock and roll. Choruses are usually in groups of three and are often used in a call and response pattern. Live, wild dancing has long been commonplace, and is a staple of many of the genre's biggest stars. Lyrically, irony and oblique references to issues of sexuality and politics.

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 Hernandez tried to move merengue into the mainstream, but failed, largely due to risque lyrics. Some success occurred after the original form (then called merengue típico cibaeño) was slowed down to accommodate American soldiers (who occupied the country from 1916-1924) and couldn't dance the difficult steps of the merengue; this mid-tempo version was called pambiche. Major mainstream acceptance started with the rise of Rafael Trujillo in the early 1930s.

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 therefore resented these elite sophisticates and began promoting the Cibao-style merengue as the populist symbol. The text of merengue songs covers an array of topics, including politics. This is evidenced by the hundreds of songs that were made, which were focused on political aspects of Trujillo's dictatorship, praising certain guidelines and actions of his party. Trujillo even made it mandatory for urban dance bands to include merengue in their routines. Also, piano and brass instruments were added in large merengue orchestras. On the other hand, merengue that continued to use an accordion became known 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.


Salve is a call-and-response type of singing that uses güira, panderos, atabales and other African instruments. Salves are highly ceremonial and are used in pilgrimages and at parties dedicated to saints. Salve is related to palo that is played in a lot of the same contexts, but with different instruments and rhythms. The name comes from the Salve Regina, a catholic psalm, and many still sing a sacred, acapella 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 Mendez’s salve-merengue fusion album A Palo Limpio as well as an excellent recording of her group by the Bayahonda Cultural Foundation.


Dominican sacred music and can be found all along the island. The drum and human voice are the principal instruments. Palo is played at religious ceremonies - usually coinciding with saint's days - and at special occasions. With roots in the Congo region of central-west Africa, palo shares much the same pantheon of deities/saints as the Afro-American religious traditions of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and elsewhere in Latin America. The instruments played in a palo are the same as salves but with out the panderos.

Popular music


Bachata is a style of music that inhabitants of shantytowns call their own to own. Though this may seem like almost 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 guira (which has replaced the maracas).

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 world-wide.

Dominican Rock

Dominican rock is also popular among younger and not so younger 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 80s, 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 over 70 Dominican rock bands, the most successful being Toque Profundo, Tabu Tek, Al-Jadaqui Tribu del Sol, 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 is a new Dominican rock group who is very popular, too.

Also there are 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.

Merenhouse and Merenrap


Even though reggaeton originated with reggae en español in Panama and gradually evolving to reggaeton in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic was the third country in Latin America to which reggaeton was introduced. It has had a long history of reggaeton music, more closely associated with Puerto Rican music. Dominican reggaeton is a mixture of bachata and merengue rhythm. Some artists in reggaeton include Luny Tunes, who are one of the biggest and most popular producers in the genre, and have produced big hit reggaeton songs such as Daddy Yankee's smash hit "Impacto", among other chart toppers. Other Dominican reggaeton artists include Mr. Dominican[1], Heavy Papi [2], Noztra, Don Miguelo, Mike El Beta, Santo Nova, O.G. Black (who was part of Master Joe & O.G. Black), Ingco Crew, Michalle Pie, Mojiganga, La Fabrica, Gem Star and Big Mato, Yo Yais. Some reggaeton artists are of Dominican descent, or by association like Arcángel & De La Ghetto (Both Half Dominican), Nicky Jam (Half Dominican), who was born in the Dominican Republic.

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.


  • Harvey, Sean and Sue Steward. "Merengue Attacks". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 414–420. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Manuel, with Kenneth Bilby and Michael Largey. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae (2nd edition). Temple University Press, 2006. 

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