For an entire month I was woken up by this song:
It was a rough month.
Thankfully, the above song is not representative of Dominican music. Indeed, the above song is from a Venezuelan singer popular in the late 80's. Much more often you will hear bachata, merengue, salsa, or dembow music. All of which I am come to enjoy. Here is a break down on what they all sound like:
Bachata was created in the D.R. in the early part of the 20th century. It was once considered to be the music of country-folk - the lyrics and dancing were considered too vulgar for the wealthy, but today it is the most common music you will hear on the radio. The are a multitude of great Dominican artists in this genre. To get a good mix I recommend the "I love Bachata" album series which is available on iTunes. (I have 2013 and 2014.) The most well known singers of this music are Prince Royce and Romeo Santos, both of whom are Americans. I prefer Romeo Santos - his album Fórmula Vol. 2 is amazing and features mainstream American artists: Drake and Niki Minaj, although their Spanish singing skills are wanting.
Decide who you prefer by listening to two of their most popular songs.
First Prince Royce with "Darte un Beso" (Give you a Kiss):
And now Romeo Santos with "Eres Mía" (You are Mine):
Merengue, like bachata, is native to the D.R. Created in the 19th century the music was made popular by the country's dictator, Rafel Trujillo. Merengue is now one of the most popular genres of music in all of Latin America. Merengue music tends to have a faster beat than bachata and the dance is also more rapid and features more spins and turns than bachata. I think meregue is more fun to dance, but only if your dance partner know what they are doing - otherwise you are just dancing in a circle.
There are not many female singers heard on Dominican radio, but Miriam Cruz is one exception. Check her out below with the old but classic "La Loba" (The She-Wolf):
Salsa originates from Cuba, and is not nearly as common as bachata or merengue. Bachata and merengue can be difficult to distinguish at first, but since salsa was developed off the island its sound is unique. But if you can't hear the difference, you can always tell when a salsa is playing because only two couples will be dancing. Most Dominicans do not know how to dance salsa - they seem to like to stick to their native dances: bachata and merengue. However, there are still well known Dominican salsa singers and most Dominicans can sing along to salsa songs played on the radio. Here is Yiyo Sarante with "Pirata de Amor" (Pirate of Love):
Dembow is a new and evolving genre, original to the D.R. It is a form of rap stemming from Puerto Rico's reguetón music (think "Gasolina" by Daddy Yankee), however now it is its own beast. I use the word beast because dembow lyrics tend to focus on sex, drinking, and generally acting wild. Dancing to dembow is similar to dancing to American rap music - just find a stranger and start grinding up on them. Get your booty shakin' to this next song by El Alfa, "Subete en el Caballo" (Get on the Horse). And yes, the title is a sexual innuendo.
Just for fun, below, is a more innocent dembow song. This song is about the Chikungunya virus, which I finally got (and recovered from) last month. I didn't get the severe joint pain as portrayed in the video but I did get swollen joints, fever, rash, and random waves of exhaustion (I fell asleep at my kitchen table surrounded by unopened grocery bags one afternoon.). Still, I consider myself lucky. Many of my neighbors and fellow volunteers continue to suffer from joint pain months after their initial diagnosis. K2 and his song "La Chikungunya" should give you an idea of what they are still going through:
Like nearly every where in the world, you can hear American pop occasionally in D.R. The U.S. is close enough that some volunteers tune into Radio Disney to get their pop music fix. Most Dominicans to not know what the lyrics to American songs mean - but that doesn't stop them from singing along.
Slowly Dominican music is making its way back to the States. Prince Royce and Romeo Santos can already be heard on the radio in America - especially their songs that mix English and Spanish and/or feature popular English singers. An explosion in popularity for Dominican music in the U.S. is coming. Are you ready?!