And in the evenings we danced merengue…

While merengue might bring to mind carefree evenings, this vibrant music and dance have a rich and complex history. Let’s move back to the early 19th century, to small Dominican towns – it was there that the first sounds of merengue resounded, which soon spread throughout the country. Today, merengue is danced not only by Dominicans, but also by people from other Latin American countries, blending elements of their native cultures into the rhythm. If you have been lucky enough to visit the Dominican Republic, you have certainly experienced the spontaneous dancing that takes place at street bars, in stores or on beaches. Merengue is one of the symbols of the Dominican Republic and a vibrant expression of Dominican joy and passion. In the history of the country, merengue not only played an integral part in the events held in Dominican pueblos but also had its moments on the political stage.

A rhythmic volcano with African and European roots

The term ‘merengue’ refers to both the national music and dance of the Dominican Republic, a fusion of African and European influences. Francisco Ñico Lora is considered the father of the genre – a Dominican musician, composer, and violinist known for his improvised shows and composing for audiences ‘on the spot’. Merengue is characterized by a lively rhythm and an emphasis on the first step. It is usually danced in pairs, although solo performances are not out of the question. If you see an accordion and two percussion instruments called ‘güira’ and ‘tambora’ (photo below) among the instruments accompanying the musicians, you can be sure that the atmosphere will soon be filled with the sounds of merengue! The güira is an instrument resembling a grater in appearance, with roots dating back to the Taino Indians, the indigenous inhabitants of the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles, including the Dominican Republic. The tambora, on the other hand, is a two-headed drum of African origin that was once made from recycled rum barrels. You will learn in a moment that merengue has evolved over time, with musicians introducing new variations and instruments. However, this doesn’t change the fact that this trio remains an essential element of any merengue fiesta! The fusion of sounds created by these instruments still sets the rhythm for many Dominican celebrations and thrills tourists, giving their Caribbean adventure a unique charm.

Tambora (on the left) and güira (on the right)

Merengue as a dictator’s ace in the hole?

Merengue did not always evoke positive feelings; in particular, representatives of the Dominican upper class of the 19th century felt that the energetic combination of dance and music was at times too bold and provocative. Due to these protests, former Dominican President Ulises Espaillat eradicated merengue from public space in the late 19th century – that move was met with general criticism from Dominicans who continued to fill the comfort of their homes with its sounds. It was the efforts of musicians, including the aforementioned Lora, that ensured that merengue survived its worst period and re-energized public space between 1910 and 1920. After Rafael Trujillo took over the dictatorship in 1930, merengue became a showcase to promote his worship, while also gaining prominence and slowly evolving into the national symbol of the Dominican Republic. It’s worth noting that the merengue wave didn’t initially sweep across the entire country – the genre found popularity primarily in rural areas among individuals from lower social strata. Trujillo decided to utilize the catchy sounds of merengue to build his own image, commissioning musicians to compose melodies in his honor, including, for example, the song “Trujillo es grande e inmortal,” or “Trujillo is great and immortal”. The dictator’s brother, Petan Trujillo, also played a major role in popularizing merengue by ensuring that its sounds resonated regularly on the state-sponsored radio station ‘La Voz Dominicana’. One of the first songs to gain recognition across all social classes was the 1936 song ‘Compadre Pedro Juan’ (Compadre Pedro Juan – YouTube), composed by one of merengue’s best-known musicians and popularizers, Luis Alberti.

Merengue de la calle – the authentic spirit of Dominican Republic!

In the second half of the 20th century, merengue gained popularity beyond the streets and dance halls, finding its way into living rooms as musicians began to experiment and create new variations of the genre. Considered the godfather of modern merengue, Tatico Henríquez introduced the saxophone to the instrument section, while Rafael Solano is credited with incorporating the bass drum. Nowadays, merengue continues to inspire contemporary artists, who blend it with other rhythms to produce dance music that captivates audiences on the dance floor. One particularly notable song in this genre is “El Merengue” by Marshmello and Manuel Turizo, which has garnered significant attention on YouTube (1783) Marshmello, Manuel Turizo – El Merengue (Official Video) – YouTube).  The comments section beneath the track serves as evidence that merengue holds a special place in Dominican culture – as one user states: ‘As a Dominican, I’m proud of this type of merengue… I listen to it again and again’.

Not surprisingly, merengue earned its place on UNESCO’s national list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016, sealing its status as a national symbol alongside larimar. Interestingly, merengue day falls in the Dominican Republic on November 26 – just a few days later after the larimar holiday, which is celebrated on November 22 (you can read more about larimar in this article: Larimar – the Caribbean Treasure – Cofresi ( If you’re planning to visit the Dominican Republic in the second half of the year, it’s worth considering these dates, but there are surprises waiting for you in the first half of the year as well! Every summer, the country’s capital, Santo Domingo, hosts a merengue festival that lasts for two weeks, falling between June and August. Regardless of the planned date of your trip, one thing is certain: merengue will accompany you at every turn!

Dominicans have no hesitation in dancing the merengue here and now – no matter where they are. On your Dominican adventure, be prepared to be swept up in the dance at any moment, becoming part of a colorful community. If so, try your own moves and get a taste of Dominican culture to the rhythm of merengue!


Immerse yourself in the rhythms of merengue while enjoying oceanfront accommodations! Reach out to us to discover more.

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