There are many different styles of music from Puerto Rico, but Merengue is one of the most popular genres throughout all of Latin America and major cities in the United States. The etymology of its name is much disputed, but it is likely related to similar West African words related to dance and music.
The merengue is a music beat created for dance, most typically associated with the Dominican Culture. The origin of merengue is not known definitively. Some say it was invented by Colonel Alfonseca, while others say it was born as a Dominican melody after the Dominican victory at the Battle of Talanquera. Yet another theory is that came from Cuba and Puerto Rico in the mid-19th century. Despite its strong association with the Dominican Republic, many Puerto Rican artists have adopted merengue; people such as Elvis Crespo and Olga Tañon, among others.
Dance to Merengue
Authentic Merengue is one of the simplest Latin dances to learn. The beat is clear and the rhythm constant. Dancers employ few if any turns. When turns are used, Merengue’s turns are casual walking steps rather than the spin turns seen in Salsa. The origins of the dance are surrounded by folklore. One of the basic steps is a series of side steps to the man’s left called the chasse or chase. A version of this step is sometimes danced with a stiff right leg which is dragged to meet the left foot after which the left foot steps to the left repeating the sequence. This particular style is attributed to a war hero; some say a pirate, who had a wooden right leg. He would dance on the Dominican beaches and his style was soon emulated by the rest of the population.
The Ensemble – Conjunto Típico
A typical and simple Merengue ensemble is called a conjunto típico. The instruments used by a conjunto típico when playing Merengue music, are a diatonic accordion, a two sided drum called a tambora held on the lap, and a güira. The güira is a home-made percussion instrument made from a sheet of metal perforated with a nail and then rolled into a cylinder. The güira is brushed with a stiff brush on the downbeat with an “and-a” or a more complex movement added for variation or emphasis at certain points.
When changes in musical styles began in the 1990s, most groups maintained the five-man lineup of accordion, sax, tambora, güira, and bass guitar, though a few new innovations have been made. Some younger band leaders have also added congas, timbales, and keyboards to their groups in an attempt to close the gap between típico and orquesta and increase their listening audience.
This music from Puerto Rico is great for all ages to rock to and dance to. If you want to put on your dancing shoes and experience this Caribbean beat, try listening to Elvis Crespo or Olga Tañon, some of the best Puerto Rican merengue artists today.
To purchase a compilation of Puerto Rican music, covering bomba y plena, merengue and salsa, click here to purchase this great CD:
This article was written by Captain Tim and the Crew of Caribbean Trading Company.
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