Latino Studies Merengue and Bachata
Gustavo Pérez-Firmat
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0101


Originating in the Dominican Republic, the merengue is a music and dance reflective of cultural identity of the country. The traditional merengue (also known as merengue cibaeño or merengue típico), which emerged in the mid-19th century in the northern Cibao region, was at first scorned as music of the lower class but was accepted by the upper-class elite during the Trujillo regime. Merengue típico changed little during the 20th century, while a more sophisticated, highly orchestrated merengue has spread to the nightclubs and dance floors of the world since the late 1990s. Although its origins as a rural, romantic, guitar-based genre go back to the end of the 19th century, bachata did not become popular until the 1960s, when it spread to the urban barrios in the Dominican capital. Since the 1990s, bachata has emerged as a genre that appeals to all social classes and enjoys international popularity.

Introductory Works

Brown 1999 provides an introduction to Dominican history and culture, and Manuel and Largey 2016 and Daniel 2011 explore the origins of various genres of Caribbean music, including that of the Dominican Republic. Moore 2000 offers a detailed look at Caribbean culture and music for the general audience. Rodríguez de Léon 1998 presents a thorough look at the history of Dominicans in the United States. Stavans 2014 provides essays on Latin American music.

  • Brown, Isabel Zakrzewski. Culture and Customs of the Dominican Republic. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.

    Useful Introduction to the history and culture of the Dominican Republic, including Dominican music and dance. See pp. 135–146.

  • Daniel, Yvonne. Caribbean and Atlantic Diaspora Dance: Igniting Citizenship. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011.

    While this study does not focus on merengue, it is valuable for its research on the diasporic African origins and evolution of Caribbean dance; extensive bibliography.

  • Manuel, Peter, and Michael Largey. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. 3d ed. Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2016.

    Emphasizes the creolization of European musical forms and dances, as well as the syncretic process that combines these with African rhythms and traditions, leading to the various genres of Caribbean music; includes history and development of merengue and bachata in the Dominican Republic, as well as an updated section on merengue and bachata in Dominican immigrant enclaves in the United States and Puerto Rico.

  • Moore, Robin. Music in the Hispanic Caribbean: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    A comprehensive textbook of music in the Caribbean for a general audience; includes a CD. History, instruments, and melodic and drumming patterns of merengue and bachata are discussed.

  • Rodríguez de Léon, Francisco. El furioso merengue del Norte: Una historia de la comunidad dominicana en los Estados Unidos. New York: Editorial Sitel, 1998.

    A well-documented history of Dominicans in the United States. Of particular interest is chapter 5, “El Furioso Merengue del Norte,” which traces the initial inroads of merengue in New York City.

  • Stavans, Ilan, ed. Latin Music: Musicians, Genres, and Themes. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2014.

    An encyclopedic collection of articles on the diverse origins and cultural aspects of Latin music in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States.

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