As soon as the plane lands in Dominican Republic the traveler can feel the happy harmonies and sounds of merengue. This rhythm is everywhere, in the taxi cab radio, in the hotel reception, in the restaurants even in the beach. Merengue is the national athens and the national dance in Dominican Republic. This is the reason why merengue singers are consider celebrities in the island. They have groupies and juicy contracts with international record companies. Normally, merengue is play by bands, but these carry the name of the most popular singer like: Johnny Ventura, Coco Band, Wilfredo Vargas, Fernandito Villalona, Rubby Pérez and, of course, Juan Luis Guerra and its worldwide famous 4:40.
Dominicans learned how to dance merengue before they can even walk. Music is an essential part of the life in the island. Many local know how to play empirically the drums or some of the other musical instruments require for merengue. While visiting the Dominican Republic travelers can learn how to dance merengue by watching the locals on the nightclubs or enrolling for classes on one of the many dance academies in the island. Remember practice makes perfect.
The merengue rhythm follows the pattern 2-2 or 2-4 and is play with drums, melodeon -a local accordion- and güira. This last instrument looks exactly like a cheese grater. Güira is a local tribal instrument that was play during sacred ceremonies, but now is part of the “merengue religion”. They used to be make with a small indigenous pumpkin, but now they are made out of wood or brass. Eventhough they keep their very harsh unique sound.
Visiting Dominican Republic in July, August or October is highly recommended for those travelers interested in local music, because during this time take place the two most important merengue festivals. The Festival de Merengue de Santo Domingo gets together the best singers of the world during two week, the last week of July and first week of August. This is a national event in which music takes all over the city. In October is the turn for Puerto Plata Merengue Festival. The city closes to traffic and stages are place everywhere to create a huge party that last a week.