History of Merengue
The Merengue is one of the oldest Latin dances since it was born at the beginning of the 19th century in the Dominican Republic, country where one considers his music as the most joyful and the most rhythmic.
Originally performed with stringed instruments such as bandurria and guitar, the Merengue was later enriched with the replacement of these instruments by accordion, güira and drum representing European, indigenous and African of this musical genre.
Later, the orchestras introduced other instruments such as piano, saxophone and trumpet, and Merengue served as the basis for the creation of Bachata in the Dominican Republic.
Origins of Merengue
The origin of Merengue has still not been verified at present. Some say it was Colonel Alfonseca who created this new musical genre that in 1850 became popular in the Dominican Republic instead of the Tumba.
As for the word “Merengue”, it goes back to the colonial period and comes from “muserengue” or “tamtan mouringue”, name given to African dances from Guinea.
However, it is known that between 1838 and 1849, a dance called Urpa or Upa Habanera from Puerto Rico already had a movement called Merengue and that would have been the basis of the musical genre developed in the Dominican Republic. As a result, Alfonseca composed some popular songs such as “Ay, Coco!”, “El sancocho”, “El no no dos pesos no baila”, and “Huye Marcos Rojas que te coje la pelota”.
Evolution of Merengue
For many musicologists, Merengue was born in the region of Cibao where there still exist today groups using basic instruments such as guitar, güira and drum.
It was from Germany that the accordion arrived on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, replacing the guitar with its better sound and giving birth to “Perico Ripiao”.
Santiago de los Caballeros, the capital of Cibao, will then become the center of diffusion of “Perico Ripiao” that one considers today like the typical Merengue.
The songs of “Perico Ripiao” differ from the orchestral Merengue that will appear later, composed of simple and poetic verses and interpreted with a fast pace.
The spread of the Merengue was quite fast in the Dominican Republic thanks to the arrival of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (1930 -1961), which was of modest origin and much appreciated this musical genre. He used the Merengue to promote his policy by declaring it National Music of the Dominican Republic.
To seduce the country’s intellectual elite, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo then engaged the services of talented musicians like Julio Alberto Hernández who then transformed the “Perico Ripiao” into a formal Merengue structured salon based on a large orchestra. keeping his pace. This new Merengue will be popularized thanks to orchestras like the “Orquesta Santa Cecilia”, the most important of this period.
In the 1950s, the Merengue began to spread internationally with the appearance of orchestras like that of Wilfrido Vargas and “Los Beduinos” directed by the producer Bienvenido Rodriguez.
With the fall of the dictator in 1961, the influence of the Anglo-Saxon music will force the Merengue to adapt to the youth of the country. That’s when young musicians like Felix del Rosario and Johnny Ventura will appear.
Félix del Rosario is a military musician who knows jazz very well, while Johnny Ventura is a very creative and very charismatic artist in the Dominican Republic. Together they will adapt the Merengue to what the young people expect in the 1960s by creating El Combo, an orchestra of 14 musicians with dancers and choristers.
To make a name for himself, Johnny Ventura begins to transform Latin-American strolls into Merengue, then he adds “El Maco”, that is to say a percussion style from Kompa coming from Haiti and Plena from Puerto Rico. These Maco-style Merengues thus follow the same rhythm as the Disco music from the United States, allowing Johnny Ventura to seduce an even larger audience.
In the 1970s, Salsa is down on the music market because the romantic and erotic bases of its lyricism are no longer enough to compete with Pop music that appeals more youth. The Merengue then takes advantage of this decline in Salsa to win by taking a rhythm identical to the Pop.
Juan Luis Guerra will also be one of the Dominican singers that will allow the Merengue to spread in Latin America, the United States and Spain. Specialist Bachata and Merengue, Juan Luis Guerra has achieved an eclectic mix of West Indian sounds with jazz, composing songs that appeal to all social classes.
In the United States, the Merengue spread after the dictatorship of Joaquín Balaguer in 1966 that drove many Dominican artists to exile to Puerto Rico and New York.
Arriving in Puerto Rico the Merengue is not long in winning the same as the Salsa, and during the 1990s New York has nearly a million Dominicans who will continue to listen to Merengue and even adapt by merging the style with the Hispanic and black influences of this city to give birth to Merengue-House, Merengue-Hip Hop and Merengue-Rap.
The Merengue is dancing on a rhythm of 4/4 and the basic step is realized on 8 beats, each time representing a step realized by the dancers who are face to face and will perform the movements in mirror.
Right hand on the hip of his partner or in his back, left hand holding his right hand, the dancer will move his left foot leaving his right foot on the spot, and place the weight of the body on the left foot to make a skew to left.
In the second step, the weight of the body is placed on the right foot to perform a right swing without moving the feet.
In the third step the left foot moves back with the weight of the body on this foot to perform a left swing, and the fourth time the weight moves on the right foot for a right swing.
We repeat these four movements to complete the 8 beats of this basic dance step. The dancer will perform the same movements by reversing the position of the feet.
To better understand this basic step, look closely at this video below which will show you that dancing the Merengue is not as difficult as you might think.