By Nelson Santana
March 20, 2018
A well-intentioned article by VIBE last month to commemorate Dominican Independence also revealed the magazine’s inability to write an accurate article on Dominican culture. We love VIBE and recognize its contribution to the understanding of Hip Hop, popular culture and beyond. Although the article contains an exquisite playlist, it erroneously lists what writer Richy Rosario notes as a “Classic Perico Ripiao Playlist.”
For those unaware, the inclusion of songs such as Kinito Méndez’s “El baile del Sua Sua” (1997), Fernando Villalona’s version of “Baila en la calle” (1985), and Mala Fe’s “La vaca” (1999) are songs that cannot be classified as Perico Ripiao because Perico Ripiao falls under the umbrella of Merengue Típico and these particular songs do not meet the requirement. In fact, these are Merengues, but not Típico.
A crucial element that helps to distinguish Merengue Típico from other Dominican genres is the instrumentation. All Merengue Típico songs include an accordion, tambora, and güira, however, more often than not a Dominican marimba or bass guitar is added. Also, Perico Ripiao is a colloquial name, whereas Merengue Típico is the actual name of this genre. Some attribute the name Perico Ripiao to a brothel where the music used to be played and afterward the name was given to that style of music, hence the negative connotation. Such account, however, has been challenged.
Songs such as Wilfrido Vargas’ “El africano” (1984), Milly, Jocelyn, y Los Vecinos’ “Volvió Juanita” (1984), and Peña Suazo’s “Traigo Fuego” (2004) are excellent additions to any playlist, yet these are not actual Perico Ripiao or Merengue Típico songs. A case could be made to include Antony Santos’ “El baile el perrito” (1992) or “El animal” (1992) on the playlist since guitar-based Merengues share more commonalities with accordion-based Merengues than orchestra Merengue, yet the song on Rosario’s playlist, the classic “No te vayas” (1994) by Antony Santos is not a tune hardcore lovers of Merengue Tipico associate with the genre, particularly because of its slightly more subdued tempo.
The second problem with Rosario’s article is that rather than citing the authoritative work on Merengue Típico, Rafael Chajlub Mejía's Antes de que te vayas: Trayectoria del merengue folclórico (2002), he instead cites Deborah Pacini’s magnum opus, Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music (1995). Pacini’s dissertation-turned monograph (book) is an important contribution to the body of scholarship pertinent to Dominican music, therefore the following critique is not directed at her. However, using the research of Pacini, whose scholarship focuses on a completely different music genre—Bachata—and to highlight a Google Books' passage where she demonstrates the distinction between orchestra-based Merengue and Merengue Típico is a lackadaisical attempt to get people to learn about Dominican music. A more appropriate attempt by VIBE would have been to cite Paul Austerlitz’s Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity (1997) or Sydney Hutchinson's Tigers of a Different Stipe: Performing Gender in the Dominican Republic (2016).
Plenty of Dominican scholars have written about Merengue Típico by going to live shows in any major city in the U.S. from New York to Providence to Atlanta and Miami. Rosario writes in the tune of some non-Dominican writers who rather than dedicate time to actual research, instead choose a work in English by a non-Dominican, thus perpetuating the lie that Dominicans are incapable of writing their own history in a reputable manner. (Rosario may be Dominican.)
Rosario’s questionable playlist also highlights a broader issue: scholarship by non-Dominicans are held in higher regard than Dominican scholarship even in cases when Dominicans made similar arguments years, if not decades earlier.
Although this was a heartfelt attempt by VIBE to acknowledge and highlight Dominican culture, it was nonetheless a lackadaisical effort. Two members of the ESENDOM collective, Nelson Santana and Emmanuel Espinal, put together a compilation of authentic Merengue Típico songs. Nelson Santana's playlist includes Merengue Típico songs that should never be absent from any party, with an honorable mention of a non-Merengue Típico that always gets the party started! On the other hand, Emmanuel Espinal's playlist includes iconic Merengue Típico songs. Without further ado, here are two of ESENDOM's Merengue Típico playlists:
 “Baila en la calle” was composed by Luis Días and won a national competition in 1983 to become the official selection of the Dominican carnival in 1984. Sonia Silvestre and Luis Días recorded the tune prior to Villalona.
Nelson Santana's Típico Playlist
- El diente de Oro – El Ciego de Nagua
- La chiflera – Fefita La Grande
- El lunarcito – El Prodigio y La Súper Banda
- La mala maña – Banda Real
- Vamos hablar inglés – Fefita La Grande
- Las indias de Baní – El Prodigio y La Súper Banda
- Las viejas de ahora – Toribio de la Cruz
- El tiguerito – El Prodigio y La Súper Banda
- La cosquillita – Juan Luis Guerra
- Historia de un gran amor – Yovanny Polanco
El baile el perrito – Antony Santos (honorable mention)
Emmanuel Espinal's Típico Playlist
- Homenaje a Bolo Octavio Acosta - Tatico Henríquez
- Se murió mi padre – El Prodigio
- Adán y Eva – Tatico Henríquez
- las indias de bani – Miguel Santana
- Las flores – El Ciego de Nagua
- La pimienta es la que pica – Fefita la Grande
- El diente de oro - El Ciego de Nagua
- ¿Dónde estás mi amor? (Recuerdo de Ada) - Negrito Figueroa
- Una mañana de abril – El Prodigio
- Si Tatico se levanta – Tatico Henríquez