Merengue is the musical icon of the Dominican Republic. While salsa developed from Cuba to reach out to several other countries and developed into a number of different forms (NY, LA, Colombian salsa style), Merengue is still a purely Dominican tradition. If you visit the Dominican Republic you will find it everywhere, on the radio, in shops, in the taxis, nightclubs, in the streets.. Everywhere.
Its roots, like those of all Caribbean music, can be found in the African rhythm brought to the Dominican Republic by African slaves. But both its rhythm and melodic structure is much simpler than the one of others forms of Caribbean music. Merengue music is in two beats with heavy accents on the strong beats which make following the rhythm very simple. Dancing merengue is based on following such beat with a gentle swing on the hips, where the emphasis is put on the synchronization of such swing with the partner. Because of these features Merengue is often used as gentle introduction to Latin dancing. And rightly so, because it contains the core body movements which needs to be mastered before progressing to the challenges of salsa.
As a result, unfortunately, in today's salsa clubs and salsa classes is often considered merely as the poor cousin of salsa and only the features which are common with salsa are normally taught. It is a pity, since Merengue has a feel of its own, which is independent on the figure you may execute while you dance it, but which, rather, is based on the peculiar features of its music and, more important, in the connection which it allows to develop with your partner. We try to cover all this in our merengue video, and we try to highlight this unique feature.
To fully enjoy Merengue its obviously important to choose the right music. Unfortunately most salsa clubs and Latin music store offer a limited variety of merengue music, most of which is normally covered by Elvis Crespo and its former band Grupo Mania plus a number of bands which have adopted Elvis' Merengue format almost to the point of making it impossible to distinguish the different band as well as the different songs. Other popular forms of Merengue comes from the Dominican community in NY city, with its modern version of Techno Merengue (certain streets in NY today look just like Dominican Republic!!). Much there is much more to Merengue music than this and we recommend you explore this kind of music. Some suggestions include the all time classic Juan Luis Guerra, Kinito Mendez, Sergio Vargas, and, on top of them all, Los Hermanos Rosarios!!
If you have a basic music training,
you'll recognize a very peculiar signature to Merengue music. The rhythmic section
is normally very sparse, unlike most other forms or Caribbean music. The driving
percussion being the Guiro (normally in its metal form) which is accompanied
by very syncopated conga. Other crucial component to the rhythmic feel comes
from the piano, which usually plays in the background with a constant syncopated
arpeggio closely resembling an accelerated salsa tumbao. The melodic role is
played by the brass section, where the main role is usually played by three
saxophones, which give the typical Merengue sound. This is a feature which is
very unique to Merengue, as it is the sparse role of the bass, which replaces
the bass drum with a very deep and sharp sound. As it happens with all form
of music, learning to perceive these music components will make your dancing
more in tune with the music.