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Merengue típico (also known as merengue cibaeño or colloquially as Perico ripiao) is a musical genre of the Dominican Republic. Merengue típico is the term preferred by most musicians as it is more respectful and emphasizes the music's traditional nature.
Merengue típico is the oldest style of merengue still performed today (usually in the Dominican Republic and the United States), its origins dating back to the 1850s. It originated in the rural, northern valley region around the city of Santiago called the Cibao, resulting in the term "merengue cibaeño". Originally played on the metal scraper called güira, the Tambora, and a stringed instrument (usually a guitar or a variant such as the tres). Stringed instruments were replaced with two-row diatonic button accordions when Germans began to travel to the island in the 1880s as part of the tobacco trade. Later, the marimbula, a bass lamellophone related to the African mbira, was added to fill out the sound
Merengue first appears in the Caribbean in the 1850s. The earliest documented evidence of merengue in the Dominican Republic are newspaper articles complaining about this "lascivious" dance's displacement of the earlier tumba.
Early merengue was played on stringed instruments, but the accordion came to the island in the 1880s, introduced by German traders, and quickly became the primary instrument in merengue.
Up until the 1930s, the music was considered immoral. Its more descriptive and colorful name, perico ripiao (literally "ripped parrot" in Spanish) is said to have been the name of a house of ill repute in Santiago where the music was played. Moralists tried to ban the music and the provocative dance that accompanied it, but with little success. Dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo brought accordionists with him on the campaign trail, and once he took power, he ensured that merengue was embraced as a national music by all classes of Dominicans.
Much controversy exists over the exact origins of merengue tipico. Official versions promote the three-cultures origin myth, using the European accordion together with the supposedly African and Taino tambora and güira/güiro (respectively) as support. Afro-Dominican influence on the merengue has long been denied[by whom?] due to the racist legacy of the Trujillo regime. Similarly, debate over the either European or African etymology of the word merengue continues to rage.
Changes, Fusions, and innovations
After Trujillo's assassination, Dominican society changed rapidly as processes of urbanization and migration accelerated. Merengue tipico changed too. Through the efforts of artists like El Cieguito de Nagua, and particularly Tatico Henriquez, the music became faster and more technically demanding, while incorporating new instruments. They replaced marimba with electric bass, and added saxophone and congas.
In the 1990s a new generation of musicians added a bass drum, played with a foot pedal by the guirero, and timbales, played by the tamborero for fills (timbales in merengue tipico were believed to have been first incorporated by Ray "Chino" Diaz, a famous Dominican percussionist and tambora player). Agapito Pascual is credited with creating the new style termed "merengue con mambo" in 1987 with his recording, "La Vieja y su Pipa." Merengue con mambo refers to a merengue with a second section based on hard driving rhythms and riffs played by the accordion and saxophone together. This is the dominant style today that has been further explored by artists like Ricardo Gutierrez  (El rey joven del acordeon) El Prodigio, Geovanny Polanco, Raul Roman (son of accordion legend Rafaelito Roman), and Kerubanda. Artists like Krisspy and Aguakate have pushed genre boundaries even further with more mambo and fusions with other rhythms like reggaeton, and many artists like Fulanito have fused merengue-style accordion playing with rap music. A new crop of merengue musicians, notably Limi-T 21, have attempted to create an orchestra merengue and perico ripiao fusion on songs like "Que Lo Bailen". The bpm of the music has also transformed, originally between 130 to 140 [tempo], but today is sometimes sped up from 160 to190 tempo.
Today merengue tipico actually consists of several different rhythms. Merengue derecho, or straight-ahead merengue, is the kind of fast-paced, march-like merengue Americans are most used to hearing. Pambiche or merengue apambichao is said to have developed during the American occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916–1924), taking its name from the "Palm Beach" fabric worn by American soldiers. Its tempo is usually slower than merengue derecho, and it can be recognized by the more syncopated rhythms in both bass and tambora. It is probably the rhythm most beloved by típico aficionados: dancing to it is said to require more skill since it is more complicated and syncopated than merengue derecho, and it helps to set the típico genre apart since it is used infrequently by orquesta groups. Guinchao is a third and more recently developed rhythm that is a combination of the other two. The once-common paseo, a slow introduction during which couples would promenade around the dance floor, is now common only in folkloric presentations. In the past, other dances like the mangulina, carabiné, polka, guarapo, and zarambo were also played on accordion, but are now generally heard only at folkloric presentations.
In merengue, various slang is used to signify instruments, quality, the act of playing, etc. Below are a list of terms.
- Botao- slang for a solo. Usually on tambora, güira, accordion, or conga.
- Guayo- means "grater", another word for the güira instrument.
- Mambo- not to be confused with the Cuban music style of the same name, "Mambo" in a merengue context can be either merengue de orquesta or merengue tipico, but a style of playing that involves heavy emphasis on conga, tambora, and cowbell riffs. Believed to be first popularized by accordionist Agapito Pascual, Merengue con Mambo sometimes involves solos, but is essentially a riff of saxophone or accordion repeating over a heavy rhythm. Most songs have a section within it dedicated to the Mambo, either nearing towards the end of the track or past the second verse of the song, but some songs are completely based on this style. Merengue con mambo is often played with a maco rhythm on the tambora, since it is can be played at a faster pace. The Pambiche rhythm is rarely used in merengue con mambo. Also can be used to shout out in songs, popularized by the likes of Geovanny Polanco, Aguakate, and El Prodigio.
- Golpe- a rhythm for güira, tambora, or conga.
- Cuero- generally means cowhide in Spanish, but in merengue refers most of the time to a tambora skin.
- Chivo- means goat, but refers to a goatskin for tambora.
- Merengue derecho- "straight" merengue, the kind which most are familiar with. A simplified version is played in the first part of a two-part merengue.
- Maco- borrowed from orquesta merengue, this tambora rhythm is essentially rim-slap-rim-open. Can be played the fastest.
- Pambiche- is another dance similar to merengue, with a more syncopated tambora rhythm for which many variations exist.
Notable musicians and songwriters
- Trio Reynoso
- Grupo Aguakate
- Geovanny Polanco
- La India Canela
- El Prodigio
- Tatico Henríquez
- Fefita la Grande
- Francisco Ulloa
- Rafaelito Román
- El Ciego de Nagua
- History of Merengue típico, http://merenguetipico.org
- see Hutchinson, Sydney. 2008. Merengue típico in transnational Dominican communities: Gender, geography, migration and memory in a traditional music. Ph.D. dissertation, New York University.
- Ricardo Gutierrez myspace page
- History of Merengue tipico at merengue-ripiao.com
- History of merengue tipico with music & video clips
- Live Bachata & Merengue music Stream / Música Dominicana, en Vivo,
Smithsonian Folkways CD with liner notes by Sydney Hutchinson (much of the text in this entry is copied from here)