Merenhouse originated during the 1990s in New York City by Latin Americans. They wanted to preserve their Dominican roots as well as adapt to their new environment making it a result of transnationalism. Dominican Merengue music can be considered an expression of Dominican transnationalism, as there was a significant shift in migration of Dominicans to New York City in the twentieth century. It is not surprising that merenhouse, a musical hybrid, was popular to a generation of bicultural youth growing up in New York City with Dominican roots that combined both aspects of their culture. Merenhouse is a symbol of national identity to Dominican Americans,easily identified by a euphoric sound.
In order to understand this style of music, it is important to look at the genres that influenced this new style most importantly Merengue. Merengue is the national music and dance of the Dominican Republic. It is a fast, two-step that has African, Creole, and European origins that emerged during the early 20th Century. Merengue music has varying styles and a very distinct rhythm, which makes it distinct from any other particular genre of music. During its beginnings it included call-and-response vocals, a Spanish guitar, a box lamellophone called the Congolese marimbula. These instruments were replaced with the acoustic bass, German accordion, the tambora (a West African two headed drum), the guira, which is a metal scrapper. In the 1930s, Merengue became modernized and became the national symbol of the Dominican Republic. Orchestras played for the middle class and social elite dancehall. The sound became that of a more generic Latin band. This included instrument replacement for the piano, staple percussion and bass. The Merengue in which Merenhouse mimicked developed during the 1980s and 1990s. It resulted from Juan Luis Guerra’s incorporation of more modern sounding arrangements and socially relevant themes. He was also influenced by pop and jazz music.
Genres that were popular during the 1990s in New York City greatly influenced Dominican Americans to create Merenhouse/Merenrap:
Reggae known as “the heartbeat of Jamaica.” This genre consists of everything from dancehall, ska, and dub. Instruments include the snare, bass drums, keyboards, and guitars. When many think of Reggae, they first think of the Rastafarian religion, which was created during the 1930s. Many associate Rastas and Reggae because of Bob Marley, the Jamaican Icon.
The beginnings or hip hop music/rap can be traced back to the Bronx, NY in the 1960s and 1970s where wall graffiti started to gain popularity with the prevalence of street gangs. The musical style rap was the result of multiple influences including the Jamaican style of music “toasting” and several different styles of Deejaying. DJ styles such as scratching (invented by a DJ named Theodor) and “punch phasing.” Rap can be defined as a style of music where the lyrics are half spoken, half sung in short phrases accompanied by a musical beat in the background. The term “hip hop” encompasses all of these elements, including Rap, DJing, MCing, break dancing and graffiti.
House music is considered a type of electronic dance music which spawned from Chicago, IL, and it is heavily influenced by disco. The synthesizer is most commonly associated with electronic dance music and the music is often characterized by its continuous and repetitive beat. This sub-genre of electronic dance music was influenced heavily by DJ Knuckles, who moved from playing other’s records to making his own music. There are many sub-genres of House music, including “acid house,” “Latin house,” “jungle,” and “techno,” as well as many more. This music also has close ties to hip hop.
NYC and Dominicans in the Twentieth Century
The early 1990s saw a huge increase in immigration to the US from the Dominican Republic due largely to the greatly deteriorating economic situation of the Dominican Republic in the 1980s and early 1990s. New York City saw the bulk of this initial Dominican population growth, and once those first Dominican immigrates got settled in, New York City became the hub of Dominican culture in the US. “By 1990, an estimated 900,000 Dominicans - 12 percent of the country’s population - lived in New York City alone.” Dominicans also “tend to be more concentrated residing exclusively in barrios or ghettos like Washington Heights-Inwood, home to 59% of Dominicans registered by the INS.” This potent concentration of Dominicans all in one place allowed them to bring in their own culture while they assimilated into the melting pot of cultures found in New York City. Merengue is one example of the many pieces of Dominican culture brought during this period of immigration, which was a key element to the creation of Merenhouse.
Fulanito is a Merenhouse group from the Dominican Republic. They have received acclaim from being one of the first groups to combine Merengue and House music, selling around 2 million albums around the world.
Proyecto Uno is a Dominican-American merenrap group which helped popularize a musical style that blends Merengue with rap, techno, dancehall reggae,and hip hop. The group won Billboard Latin Music Awards, Premios Los Nuestro, and an Emmy Award.
Ilegales (also called Los Ilegales) is a Grammy-nominated Dominican Merenhouse trio. They reached the Billboard Tropical charts and were nominated for a Latin Grammy award for "Best Pop Album."
Dark Latin Groove (or DLG) is a salsa band that mixes salsa, reggae, reggaeton, and hip hop. The group was nominated for a Grammy for "Best Tropical Album" and Premio Los Nuestro award for "Best Tropical Group."
- Sellers, Julie A. (October 2004). Merengue and Dominican identity: music as national unifier. McFarland. pp. 175–184. ISBN 978-0-7864-1815-2.
- Itzigsohn, Jose , Cabral, Carlos Dore , Medina, Esther Hernandez andVazquez, Obed(1999) 'Mapping Dominican transnationalism: narrow and broad transnational practices', Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22: 2, 316 — 339
- http://www. Worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com
- Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 1997. Print.
- Reynoso, Julissa. "Dominican Immigrants and Social Capital in New York City: A Case Study." Encrucijada (2003). Dartmouth College Library Publishing Project. Web. 25 Apr. 2011. <http://journals.dartmouth.edu/cgi-bin/WebObjects/Journals.woa/2/xmlpage/2/article/104>.