Music and Dance in the Dominican Republic

Article posted November 2019

When you visit the Dominican Republic you’ll soon realise that the entire island sways to a constant, life affirming rhythm. Music and dance have always been a crucial part of a culture that has taken its history of slavery and occupation to influence the rest of the world. Find out a little more about the beautiful sounds and sights you’ll see on your holiday.

The magic of merengue

Merengue is the dominant dance music in the Dominican Republic and can be heard throughout the island. Passionate and full of energy, it’s a joy to listen to and there’s sheer pleasure to be had in watching the locals show you how it's done when it comes to dancing.

Combining African rhythms and the traditional French minuet, the dance is characterised by the dragging of one foot behind the other, either symbolising chained slaves are an injured hero from a long gone revolution – both stories have their supporters.

Merengue is a fast two-step dance using either a 2-4 or 4-4 beat pattern and is traditionally played with four instruments: a two-headed drum called a tambora, a melodeon (very much like an accordion), guitar, and güira which is a metal instrument scraped with a rod.

Of course, times move on and merengue has been incorporated by orchestras, hip hop artists and synthesizer bands. Whatever the instruments used, you’ll still recognise its distinctive sound and beats.

If you’re in the Dominican Republic on November 26 then get ready for National Merengue Day and festivals held across the island. It's an experience not to be missed.

Beautiful Bachata

Bachata was a later entrant to the local music scene but is almost as important as merengue and, in some places, is now the favourite genre. This is most definitely folk music often sniffed at by the country’s elites. True sounds from the heart with a sad, slow and romantic edge.

Once again, five instruments are usually used to perform Bachata: Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass, bongos and güira.

The Bachata dance is a three-step with a little bit of Cuban hip motion thrown in for good measure. In fact, it's all about the hips and legs with very little upper body motion. Perfect for after dinner dancing, the slower motion may make it easier for you to join in with locals without breaking into a sweat.

Spicy salsa

The Dominican Republic was first discovered by Christopher Columbus whilst looking for Cuba and the island is a rival when it comes to producing the finest salsa sounds around.
Salsa itself means ‘sauce’ and you can expect a bubbling mix of African and Latin influences that make it hard to stay off the dancefloor.

Salsa music has taken over the world and, although not unique to the Dominican Republic you will find some amazing performances on your travels across the island. Look out for concerts by famous names such as Tito Puente, Jerry Rivera, Gilberto Santa Rosa and Leonardo Paniagua.

Even more music

Music in the DR is rich and varied and other sounds you might come across include Reggaeton, a mix of American-style hip-hop and Latin rhythms which is particularly enjoyed by younger people.

There are also many Dominican rap artists who have combined traditional sounds with their own unique stories. For the more traditional, Música Congos del Espíritu Santo can be heard in the village of Villa Mella and features a wide variety of drums with a call and response mechanism. Palo uses a drum and a human voice and is often associated with religious ceremonies and festivals involving saints.

In short, The Dominican Republic is a melting pot of amazing music. When you visit you’ll be tapping your toe and swaying your hips wherever you travel. Enjoy the experience and learn the moves so you can join in.

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