COMPARE AND CONTRAST MERENGUE AND BACHATA

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Triple and duple time are features of the music and dance known as merengue. Contrarily, the music and dancing form known as bachata is centered on romantic music. Both types of music are said to have originated in the Dominican Republic. Based on their widespread use across the country, merengue and bachata are believed to have Latin American musical roots. However, they both originated in separate musical styles, such as Puerto Rican romance music and African music. There is a nationalist element to the Dominican Republic's bachata and merengue. The developments which increased their popularity both nationally and internationally were influenced by musical developments that occurred during the Trujillo era.

I will compare and contrast merengue and bachata within this paper. The influence of the two music styles on the identity of Dominicans residing within the United States will be analyzed. A focus will be given to the appeal which bachata and merengue have over non- Dominican Latin national groups. Lastly, this research will delve into the impact of both bachata and merengue on national identity of Dominican nationals after the end of the Trujillo era. The Trujillo dictatorial rule developed musical styles such as merengue in order to contribute to the national identity of the Dominican citizens. Although the totalitarian regime came to an end after President Trujillo was assassinated, merengue continued to be perceived as a national style of music and was appreciated among the majority in the populace. Dominicans residing in the United States also identify themselves with merengue which is considered a part of national heritage. Merengue and bachata have influenced the developments made through the fusion of the music styles with other genres such as rap and reggae. Moreover, non Dominican Latin groups also enjoy merengue and bachata; although on a lower scale compared to Dominicans within their republic.

Influence of merengue and bachata on Dominican nationals in the United States

According to Tallaj, the popularity of merengue and bachata amongst United States Dominicans should not be understated. Merengue and bachata are perceived by Dominican nationals within the United States as an integral aspect of their origins. The value ascribed to the musical styles is due to the sense of identity it gives them as they feel connected to their ancestral roots. According t the article, Dominican migrants play merengue and bachata music in all their social gatherings. The first generation of migrants aims to ensure that their culture is not lost by presenting the second generation to cultural influences from the Dominican Republic. In the bodegas, taxi companies, beauty salons and restaurants which Dominicans are popularly known for running within the United States; merengue and bachata music is often played. Moreover, the United States Dominicans develop their understanding and appreciation of both merengue and bachata music through popular musical concerts such as Merengue Nights and popular contests on bachata and merengue compositions or singing. US Dominicans therefore hold their cultural roots in high regard. Bachata and merengue are both means through which their identity as Dominicans can be preserved as well as a teaching point for future generations of Dominicans who are born within the United States and therefore at risk of understanding their Dominican identities.

According to Austerlitz (74), musicians who emigrated from the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo era offer a point of analysis of merengue and bachata musical styles current influence amongst US Dominican nationals. Merengue artistes who managed to escape Trujillo’s regime and immigrated in the United States spread the notion of Dominican identity through the music. Populism and nationalism which were critical topics of Trujillo were therefore carried along by the musicians and other Dominicans who emigrated. The value of Dominican national identity became entrenched among US Dominican immigrants and they sought to pass along the sense f pride to future generations. The merengue artistes continually developed new merengue music to the Dominicans within the United States thereby encouraging them to uphold their cultural beliefs. Although the artistes moved away from the propaganda which was characteristic of merengue within the Dominican Republic, they were steadfast to the cultural and nationalist values which they had developed before immigration. The consumers of their music were mainly the first- generation of US Dominican immigrants. The second- generation of US Dominicans did not comprehend the vital nature of merengue and bachata to their identity as their parents postulated.

According to Calle, the migration of Dominicans to other countries such as the United States resulted in changes to some significant changes in merengue and bachata. The author posits that second-generation United States Dominicans struggle with an understanding of bachata and merengue as critical aspects of their identity because they were not born in the Dominican Republic during the era wherein merengue and bachata became symbolic of national identity. As such, the second-generation United States Dominicans enjoy American music in concert with merengue and bachata which their parents or relatives enjoy. The fast beats of merengue and bachata as well as the slow music of bachata which is reflective of Bolero dance inspired a fusion by the younger generation of merengue, bachata, rap and reggae. Although Rap-merengue did not prove as influential as Reggaeton; which was a result of the fusion of reggae and merengue; it was enjoyed by US Dominicans who resonated with the hybrid versions they developed as opposed to the traditional bachata and merengue.

According to Hernandez, Dominicans in New York were influenced by merengue and bachata to create rep-merengue reggaeton. The author posits that in New York, young Dominicans were more amenable to hip hop. In Boston, the young Dominicans preferred reggaeton above all other musical styles. Reggaeton however became more prominent in New York after tapes of the music were passed around in the city. Reggaeton is propounded by the article as a “negotiation of Dominican identity” (Hernandez 149). The term was chosen because of the conflict which arose between young Dominicans and their immigrant parents over cultural loyalty to merengue and bachata. The youth who engaged with Jamaicans, Puerto-Ricans and Black Americans in the communities wherein they lived within the United States contributed to the development of reggaeton by adding merengue and bachata touches. The Dominican youths’ influence in the development of reggaeton is argued as having been a consequence of assimilation by the Puerto Rican United States nationals. Dominican youth find it difficult to convincingly argue for their Dominican identity which they themselves have not fully understood. However, their knowledge of bachata and merengue musical styles played a role in the development of reggaeton which improved the economic capabilities of the musicians who composed reggaeton music.

According to Hernandez (30), US Dominicans value bachata music just as they value merengue. The author acknowledged that Dominican bachata artistes were often invited to the United States to play in concerts. US Dominicans thronged such concerts in order to rediscover or experience their cultural roots. One of the Dominican bachata artistes who were popular within the United States’ Dominicans was Raulin Rodriguez. Before his performance in the United States, Dominican based bachata artistes had a hard time breaking into the United States to perform. The bachata song “El dolor” (Hernandez 30), was a popular tune in the 1990s and as such, the musician was able to receive invitations to perform in various countries. The US Dominicans who attended the concert were able to learn of the developments which had taken place within the bachata music thereby leading them to appreciate it more. Bachata’s popularity among United States Dominicans was induced by their ability to relate to the historical contexts which were described in the lyrics sang. Class struggles, sex and national identity were themes within Bachata music which influenced Dominicans to understand their identity. Bachata music could also be used as a point of reference for the younger generations who had not been born in the Dominican Republic to understand their traditions, social roles as well as social attitudes towards different topics.

Bachata and merengue are both influential on the United States Dominicans. Both first generation and second generation immigrants understand the critical role of bachata and merengue in discerning their roots and identity. Not only do they learn important lessons from the musical styles and compositions, they are also able to maintain their social unity and cultural values which stress on the importance of family. Family gatherings in which merengue and bachata are played are social functions in which the young people learn to appreciate their culture. Although the youth do not appreciate merengue and bachata in the same manner that their parents do; they are able to recognize the importance attributed to it within their culture. As a result, they have incorporated their cultural identity through bachata and merengue with the modern music and western culture which they are also a part of in order to create rap merengue and reggaeton which are important to the sustenance of their cultural heritage. Reggaeton acknowledges African culture which was also an influence to bachata and merengue within the Dominican Republic. As such, reggaeton, bachata, rap-merengue, and merengue all share similar origins due to the incorporation of various cultures; specifically Caribbean, Latino and African cultures.

Contrasts between merengue and bachata in terms of their appeal to Non- Dominican Latino National Groups

Merengue and Bachata derived some of their roots from Latino cultures such as those in Haiti and Puerto Rico. Latino music styles including salsa, merengue, bachata and Cha-Cha have traversed their national boundaries. Due to similarities between the musical styles of other Latin nations and Dominican merengue and bachata, all types of Latino music are danced to in various countries. Moreover, the Internet has made it possible for cross cultural assessments to be made and the diffusion of ideas relating to different music styles. I will hereinafter undertake a comparison of the appreciation of bachata and merengue in different Latino national groups both presently and throughout the history of the two musical styles.

Bachata

According to Hernandez (4), there are similarities between bachata and Mexican ranchera, ribaro among Puerto Ricans and bolero. The similarities are attributed to the origins of bachata which were informed by various cultural groups in the Dominican Republic. Nationals of other Latin groups which were present in the Dominican Republic during the transformation of Bachata contributed to its current form. Bolero was the first influence of Bachata as it emanated from slow romantic music that was derived from Puerto Rican culture. Bolero and the original form of bachata, which was played during social gatherings such as parties, both utilized slow dance which was enabled by the use of slow music. The lyrics which were adopted by bachata exemplified common Latino values regarding topics such as sexuality. As such, it is conceivable that due to the similarities in the different types of musical styles among the Latin national groups; they can accept and enjoy any of the musical styles in the Dominican culture such as Bachata.

According to Wade, bachata, just like other Latin American musical styles, is appreciated both within and without the Dominican Republic. The author cites Colombia as one of the places in which the musical style is recognized. The influence of bachata in other Latin American countries is attributed to commercialization which has led to the development of bachata for the consumption of an international audience. The article notes that the influence of bachata on an international scale is due to the rethinking of its lyrical compositions. Bachata was less popular amongst other Latin American nationals because of the manner in which its lyrics were composed and the values that were espoused. Whereas the older form of bachata incorporated dirty lyrics, the newer from is composed for family consumptions. Bachata is also recognized and acknowledged amongst Latino Americans because of the closeness in its style and others such as Salsa.

Merengue

According to Wade, immigrants who moved from one country to the other within Latin America contributed to the acceptability of both merengue and bachata. According to the author, authenticity declined in the Colombian musical scene due to several factors including: the internationalization of musical recordings as a result of technological development and the increase in commercialization as record companies increased and promoted their music globally. As a result, information was shared across borders and different styles adopted by others. The author therefore believed that despite the rejection by Puritans who believed in the sanctity of the cultural aspects of music; musical styles had been accepted across boundaries and were enjoyed by various audiences including in Mexico. Although some puritan artistes may opt to stick to their cultural musical styles such as Cha-Cha, he audiences who are exposed to a wider variety of Latino music would be driven to seek international performances from other artistes with various musical styles such as merengue.

According to Torres- Santos (11), merengue music superseded national boundaries after the Trujillo era. The developments to merengue by artiste and composer Juan Luis Guerra are attributed to the ability of the music to be appreciated in various Caribbean and Latin American countries such as Puerto Rico. Guerra appealed to a transnational audience because of his focus on social issues. He, for example, developed merengue compositions which spoke up about illegal immigration which was rampant among Latino nationals at the time because of social issues like the violations of human rights by successive governments and the quest for economic development. “It was one thing to read about cases of sunken boats or illegal immigrants deported; but it was another when I arrived in Puerto Rico and I was around the same people who came to me and thanked me for the vision I had portrayed of them, which was as heroes. It was then that I asked myself what my real role as a songwriter was” (Torres-Santos 11). The statement shows the manner in which merengue music had traversed national borders after Trujillo’s presidency.

Moreover, collaborations between merengue artistes and other international artistes who used different musical styles resulted in the ability of merengue to be appreciated amongst all Latin national groups. Guerra, for example, collaborated with Salsa artiste Ruben Blades in the song “Si de aqui saliera petroleo” (Torres-Santos 11). Blades, who was Puerto Rican, worked with Guerra in order to compose a song that would speak on the harsh conditions in Latin American countries. The association between the two musical styles and the musical composition about social issues created a sense of identity amongst Latin speakers as they were able to appreciate the similarity in their struggles. As a result, there was recognition of the musical styles and compositions across the Latin American audience. Guerra opened international pathways for other merengue artistes as he created international recognition for the style and dance.

According to Hernandez, Latin national groups within the United States also appreciate merengue. The article posits the influence which merengue had on reggaeton. Not only were Dominicans recognized as being behind the merengue influence in reggaeton, Puerto Ricans were also cited as part of the reason why merengue was thus recognized in the new musical genre. Latino national groups who immigrated to the United States were observed as having close ties. Persons from different Latin American countries, through their social interactions were able to derive mutual interest. Merengue music, which is played in social places where US Dominicans work, enabled other people from other Latin American countries to appreciate merengue music and dance. Moreover, intermarriages between individuals from various Latino cultures diminished the sharp contrasts observed in musical styles in favor of common musical styles such as reggaeton.

Bachata is currently more influential in the Dominican Republic while merengue is more appealing amongst Latin American groups. Merengue’s superior appeal is due to the years of development which enabled it to be appreciated internationally. Merengue artistes such as Guerra also contributed to the recognition of the style abroad as he exemplified social issues which were experienced by nationals across several Latino national groups outside the Dominican Republic.

Impact of merengue and bachata on Dominican national identity after the end of the Trujillo era

According to Heaton, bachata and merengue conferred a nationalist identity status to Dominicans during and after the Trujillo presidency. Raphael Trujillo ensured that merengue was the popular music during his totalitarian rule. The focus of such music was self glorification of President Trujillo as well as spreading propaganda. The majority of the population who lived in rural areas identified with the merengue music because of the pomp and flair that was associated with it. President Trujillo invested in the development of merengue to an extent that popular merengue musicians were not allowed to leave the country during his term in office. According to , merengue was popularized by Trujillo against the wishes of the elite class. Although associated with the wealthy, it was actually enjoyed by the rural population who represented the majority in the country. The president imposed merengue as the music which was played in affluent social occasions, partly to irritate the upper social class who looked down on him due to his humble roots. The poor, who lived in rural areas, however resonated with the music thereby lending credence to the belief that during that era, merengue was associated with Dominican nationalism.

According to Torres Santos, merengue remained a crucial aspect of Dominican identity even after the death of Trujillo. The musical style of the merengue changed from the use of traditional instruments to modern ones such as guitars and violins albeit the relevance of the music continued. The author states that after the Trujillo empire collapsed and President Joaquin Balaguer took over office, a revitalized merengue came into existence (Torres-Santos 4). The new type of merengue was developed by musicians, chief of whom was Johnny Ventura. Johnny Ventura was compared to Elvis Presley who was deemed the Rock and Roll’s king. Ventura borrowed heavily from western musicians such as Presley. The national identity which persisted through the new merengue was because of the incorporation of Dominican ideals and characteristics such as feistiness and vigor in the performance of the music. Ventura’s lyrics acknowledged the street life and the experiences of persons within poor neighborhoods in urban areas thereby resonating with members of the public. The author however attributes merengue’s national identity recognition to Juan Luis Guerra who was a composer, singer and arranger (Torres-Santos 5). Guerra’s merengue compositions recognized the technological, social and historical perspectives of the Dominican Republic thus making nationals to identify with it. The potential of the Dominican Republic was explored by Guerra in his merengue. The culture of the society was celebrated and as such, Dominicans owned the merengue music. Merengue music spread internationally because of the modernization it underwent after the Trujillo era. Merengue musicians dedicated themselves to giving it international appeal. The positive cultural aspects which were represented in the music appealed both locally and internationally. However, merengue slowly declined thereafter as bachata became more popular and representative of the Dominican identity.

According to Wade, bachata developed in recognition of the Black influence to merengue music which had been disapproved of by President Trujillo. Rafael Trujillo was critical of any outside influence to merengue as he wanted it to be a Dominican construct. The influence of African music on merengue was therefore refuted by merengue musicians during Trujillo’s regime. However, after his death, bachata’s development superseded that of merengue both locally and internationally. With time, bachata became a musical symbol of national unity and identification. Just like merengue, its appreciation was largely among the rural and lower class members of the Dominican society. Bachata espoused unity because it recognized the diversity within the Dominican society. Unlike merengue which had been used to segregate marginalized groups such as Haitians within the Dominican Republic, bachata exemplified the unity in the diverse musical aspects of the various cultural groups in the country. The service of bachata which magnified the public perception of the musical style as a national identity was its unification and recognition of every group represented within the Dominican community and the diverse cultures.

According to , bachata developed from a social pariah to the national identity of the Dominican people (2). The author acknowledges the revolution of bachata which resulted in its acceptance within all classes of the society. Once termed as seedy, vulgar and rude music enjoyed by the lower caste in society, bachata underwent a transformation to its current national status and class. Bachata music is currently purchased in affluent music stores in the Dominican Republic. The music is also accepted on a household level as its current lyrical composition is appropriate for family consumption. Bachata developed as parties within which there would be merrymaking and the enjoyment of romantic and slow music. The definition of bachata as a musical style was disapproved of by some musicians at the time because of the vulgarity which was associated with the parties as they transformed from slow romantic music to fast vulgar compositions which were appropriate for salons. Rude and disrespectful lyrics were used in bachata composition during the Trujillo era. However, after the Trujillo era, there was a progressive change in the manner in which bachata was composed and performed. The author acknowledges that the current national appeal and identification with bachata stems from the articulation of the social problems experienced in the Dominican society. The cultural values in the Dominican Republic relating to sex, power and money are accurately depicted thereby making the nationals of the country to identify with bachata. The music is also lent a voice to those who feel excluded from the mainstream Dominican culture which has become largely westernized.

According to Helmick, bachata and merengue developed after the Trujillo era because of the immigration that took place thereafter. Musicians who immigrated to other countries such as the United States spread the music which was accepted by diverse audiences. Moreover, Dominicans who lived outside the country embraced the music because it gave them a sense of connectedness with their roots. In a bid to preserve their culture, immigrants from the Dominican Republic engaged in bachatas whereby they indulged in the Dominican cultural lifestyle. Moreover, the influence of western music on bachata as a result of immigration also enabled it to remain relevant despite the passage of time. The media also played a role in the development of bachata and meringue as a form of national identity among Dominicans because of their support of the music. However, the author notes that the support for bachata only came about in recent years as radio presenters always derided the musical style in the past. The improvements to the lyrical content and the popularity of the music however made them to change their stand and support the music as it was considered by both locals and immigrants as a part of the Dominican identity.

Conclusion

Merengue and bachata both derive their origins from the Dominican Republic where they are held in high regard. The two musical styles are perceived as a national identity. The position came about as a result of the Trujillo presidency in which the President espoused nationalist values through merengue. Merengue, although more popular in the past, has been overtaken by bachata. Bachata and merengue held strong national appeal because of the incorporation of cultural aspects and values within the Dominican Republic.

Merengue and bachata are popular among other Latino national groups. Globalization and commercialization can be credited for the spread of the musical styles. However, the natures of the two musical styles in which the social values and matters of national interests are incorporated in lyrics contribute to the international acceptance of the style. Moreover, there are similarities between the musical styles of merengue, salsa, Cha-Cha and bachata which can be acknowledged as being part of the reason for their appreciation amongst all Latin Americans. Artistes such as Guerra were critical in the influence of merengue in the Latin American front because they used the music to convey humanitarian messages that resonated with their audiences.

After the collapse of the Trujillo regime, merengue and bachata music continued to develop. The popularity of the two musical styles was influenced by the changes they incorporated which appealed to a wider audience. In the United States, immigrants appreciated both merengue and bachata as a cultural identity. Although second-generation US Dominicans were not fully appreciative of the importance of bachata and merengue, they were able to develop their own musical genres of reggaeton and rap-merengue through which they were able to appreciate their cultural roots.

Works Cited

Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue. Temple University Press, 1997.

Austerlitz, Paul. "Music and the State: Merengue during the Era of Trujillo, 1930-1961." Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue. Temple University Press, 1997. 52-77.

Austerlitz, Paul. "Nineteenth Century Caribbean Merengue." Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. 1997. 15-29.

Heaton, Sara. "BACHATA: Identity Transmission Through a Dominican Popular Music." 2004. Upenn Repository. 10 December 2017 .

Helmick, Gregory. "Rhetoric of Merengue and Bachata in Junot Diaz's Dominican-American Fiction: Border Culture, Migration, Media ISLA." NAAAS Conference Proceedings. NAtional Association of African Amerian Studies, 2015.

Hernandez, Deborah Pacini. Bachata: a social history of a Dominican popular music. Temple University Press, 1995.

Hernandez, Deborah Pacini. "Chapter 1: Defining Bachata." Hernandez, Deborah Pacini. Defining Bachata. Temple University Press, 1995. 1-34.

Hernandez, Deborah Pacini. "Dominicans in the mix: reflections on Dominicans Identity, Race and Reggaeton." Hernandez, Deborah Pacini. Dominicans in the Mix. Reflections on Dominicans Identity, Race and Reggaeton. 2009. 135-164.

Tallaj, Angelina. "Dominican Migrants, Plural Identities and Popular Music." American Music Review 47.2 (2017): 1-23.

Torres-Santos, Raymond. "Juan Luis Guerra and the Merengue: Toward a New Dominican National Identity." 2013. Dominican Studies Institute. 10 December 2017 .

Wade, Peter. "Music, Blackness and National Identity." Popular Music 17.1 (2011): 1-19.

April 13, 2023
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