Music of the Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic. Courtesy University of Texas, Austin

The Dominican Republic is part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. It occupies about 2/3 of the island, while the remaining third is the country of Haiti.

Columbus sailed to Hispaniola following his sojourn in Cuba. The first permanent settlement, at Isabella, was established in 1493. The Spaniards found the docile Taino indians living there (as they found them in Puerto Rico), but this indigenous population soon began to die off.

In 1502, the Spaniards started replacing the Taino with an African workforce, a pattern that was repeated through most of Latin America.


There are a many different genres of Dominican music. Among those that arose out of the Dominican African heritage are plena, a metered, responsorial work song, salve which is often ceremonial either sung acapella or accompanied by panderos and other African instruments and gaga, a form of music tied to the Haitian-Dominican gaga societies and usually associated with individual sugarcane settlements. But the most popular musical genres in the Dominican Republic, the music for which the country is known, are merengue and bachata.


The music most often associated with the Dominican Republic is merengue. While merengue has been part of the Dominican musical repetoire since the mid-19th century, it was in the 1930s that merengue became the dominant musical genre on the island. Under the auspices of dictator Rafael Trujillo, merengue rose from music that was considered low-brow to the music that dominated radio waves for over 3 decades.

For more about merengue:


Today, the other genre that is part of the Dominican musical landscape is bachata. The word 'bachata' has been part of Dominican culture for a long time, but it was only in the 1960s that it could officially be labelled a musical genre. In fact, until the last decade, bachata was virtually unknown to Latinos outside of Dominicans (and their neighbors) but that has changed. Bachata is quickly overcoming the popularity of merengue as the favorite Dominican musical genre.

For more about bachata:

The most famous Dominican musical artist today is undoubtedly Juan Luis Guerra. In the 1980s, Guerra took the limelight with his salsa influenced merengue sound, incorporating high-quality production in his albums. In 1984 he formed his band "Juan Luis Guerra y 440, " where the 440 were his back-up vocalists and the number 440 represents the number of cycles per second of the 'A' note.

Guerra's 2007 album La Llave De Mi Corazon took the world by storm, garnering every major award and bringing a renewed awareness of the vibrant music of the Dominican Republic.

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