Add Bookmark   Advertising Information   Contact Us  

Articles Home - Building Cultural Bridges
Dominicans Musicians Making a Change
For a country as culturally diverse as the DR, it is an unfortunate reality that most of that culture is invisible to the public at large. Because of historical pressures and a lack of integrated social-cultural education, the depth of the DR’s cultural heritage and history has been pushed into the background, allowing only a few curious individuals to appreciate it. Add to this phenomenon the reality that contemporary Dominican culture has become a commodity that is now packaged and sold as a tourist attraction, ignoring the full spectrum of what this country really is. Racism, anti-Haitianism, anti-Africanism, Europeanism, Blanquismo and Catholicism are just some of the words that have come to define and shape what today is considered Dominican culture and has created complex identity issues for this country, but this is slowly changing, and it is motivated Dominican youth who are helping that change.

Unbeknownst to most Dominicans, who shy away from, or are ignorant of this rich history, most of the music they listen to is heavily influenced by remnants of the Taino and African cultures. Many would be surprised, and some would try to deny the influence of African, Haitian and Taino culture in this music, but it is these mixes of culture that make the DR what it is. It is through music that some are trying to revive and recapture that history, creating a cultural and historical bond and educating the Dominican community about who they are. The challenge is tough, erasing hundreds of years of ideology and replacing it with ideas that have been rejected and at times considered blasphemous, but the change, for a variety of reasons, is happening. The DR is an Afro-Caribbean nation and though it has been affected by a denial of its heritage, it has been able to, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons, preserve some African music and culture.

Dominican music at its roots:
Gaga, played during Easter, is a form of music that developed parallel with Haitian Rara and evolved in the bateys (cane cutter settlements). It is a spiritual music, used during baptisms and other religious ceremonies. The development of Gaga in the DR results from the movement of laborers from Haiti to the DR. There are two types of Gaga: one style is found in Elias Piña and is more theatrical. This style involves dramatic renditions of rape and death. The other type of Gaga is seen as more rooted in spirituality and is less dramatic. Gaga is performed in procession and is a celebration of life coming from death. Appropriately, it is synchronized with the Christian celebration of Easter. Dominicans have adapted the music, including the songs and the instruments, to their own culture. Some popular Merengue songs are also performed to the Gaga rhythm.

Música Congos del Espíritu Santo
The Congos can be heard in the community of Villa Mella, in the section known as Mata los Indios, since the late 1500s when slaves were first brought to the island. African influences are present in every aspect of this music. This music is highly African in origin and is basically drum music. The music has maintained its original form and is still sung in call and response form. This style of music was usually sung while working where one person sang a line and the response was one word. This was much the same as the slave music in the southern United States. The roots of this style of music are pure African.

Palo, which means wood or stick in English, is a similar rhythm to Congos del Espiritu Santo. The name usually refers to the rhythm which is played on three tall drums with the largest of the three drums named the palo mayor, and the smaller drums called palo menor. Each drum is made from a single tree-trunk and the drums are accompanied by a guira, which is responsible for beating the rhythm.

Salve is another call and response type of chanting that uses panderos, atabales and other African instruments. Salves are highly ceremonial and are used in pilgrimages and at parties dedicated to saints.

Sarandunga of Bani
The dance of the sarandunga is a manifestation of religious devotion to Saint John the Baptist. The Saranduga is played between 23 and 24 of June. There are three common rhythmic variations of this dance, two that are danceable and one that isn’t. The two danceable rhythms are named "La Jacana" (live rhythm) and the "Morano", a chant that exclusively complements the marriage ceremony prayers.

Los Atabales
Los Atabales is probably the best representative of traditional African rhythms. The Atabales is also called the Palos de Vela and there are an estimated 50 variants of these sounds particular to all regions in the DR. This is music of a ceremonial nature that was brought to the island by the African slaves, particularly from Cameroon, the Congo and Angola.

La Tumba
This music, also of African origin, was the national Dominican dance up until the 19th century and became identified with the area of Jarabacoa in La Vega.

Originating from the phrase “good lawyer” this dance and music was brought to the DR by the “cocolos” (Black immigrants from the British West Indies and the United States) who migrated to the DR during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This folk music is particular to San Pedro de Macoris.
  Next Page -->
Daily News Archive  Message Board Archive

The contents of this webpage are copyright © 1996-2015.  DR1. All Rights Reserved.