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Music and Understanding Youth in the Dominican Republic
Music in the Dominican Republic and across the world has been a medium for groups, especially youth, for expressing themselves and letting their voices be heard. For many years musical styles native to the island have been a vehicle for this voice, but now, more than ever, the island’s musical landscape is changing, and many factors, including the country’s tourist economy, high poverty rate, strong influences from the United States and Europe, and a more unified global community, are introducing new music that speak to the youth in ways that the traditional songs aren’t doing. Though the new musical styles aren’t taking the place of Merengue or Bachata, they deserve recognition as new and strong alternatives, which are doing now what those musical styles did many years age; represent the voice of young people.

There are two main genres of music native to the Dominican Republic. These genres also include a variety of sub-genres. Merengue was created in the 1920s by Francisco Antonio “Nico” Lora, and by the 1930s it had caught the ears of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, eventually becoming the national song and dance of the island, modeled on the European Waltz.

Though Merengue was the outward representation of the country during this time, Bachata and other musical forms, with their deep roots in the Dominican folklore and history, became the inward representation of the Dominican people.

Bachata, named from the brothels, bars, and bordellos where singers would go and perform, was in direct contrast to everything Merengue was. It was a silent protest against the sanitized image that Trujillo tried to create, and the voice of the country’s poor and peasant population. Revolutionary in the sense that Bachata musicians were forced to develop their own system of producing and distributing their music, this musical genre spoke of the troubles and problems of ordinary Dominican life, one that was not represented in the Merengue.

As time progressed other styles from around Latin America and the world filled the airwaves. Salsa became extremely popular and other musical styles like American rock provided a voice for the ensuing revolutions of the 1960s. It is important to understand that the popularity of American rock here was in direct relation to the revolutionary spirit present during the 1960s. It was the defiant attitude present in the music, along with the eruption of social unrest, here and abroad, that further popularized the blaring sounds of Rock.

Though Merengue, Bachata, and Salsa are still strong forces on the musical scene, there is a variety of new music that has become extremely popular amongst this generation of Dominican youth. Just like the parents before them, it is exterior influences that are driving the change in the musical landscape.
The strong American influence, especially from Dominicans who live abroad, has made Rap music a new phenomenon in the Dominican Republic. Facing the same discrimination as the genre faces in the United States, hip-hop on the island is looked upon as a musical form for marginalized people, and the music, with its street tough lyrics and tales of drugs and gang violence express many of the struggles that poor Dominican youth face daily in their neighborhoods.

Though there is the question of a language barrier the message in the music finds its way to come across and has made a connection with urban youth here. By listening to the music and mimicking the hip hop style of dress, which includes wearing baggy clothes, baseball caps, fashionable sneakers, or sporting cornrow hairstyles, these youngsters, sometimes referred to as “Yolkies,” “Dominican Yo’s,” or simply just “Yo’s,” have become a visible sector of the island’s youth population. The “Yo’s,” usually found in the barrios of major cities, also have become basketball fanatics, and the AND1 style, made popular in the United States. On any given day one can go down to some of the local public courts, like the ones at “El Olimpico,” to see the mixture between hip-hop culture and basketball. Though these young people aren’t “typical” in their representation of the country’s youth, they make up a significant sector of the DR’s young population.
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