Playlist: A Story of Dominican Music
In this wide-ranging collection of songs, singer-songwriter Irka Mateo—who will perform a free show at the David Rubenstein Atrium on November 16—traces the folk roots of alternative music and jazz in her native Dominican Republic. The playlist opens with some* of the Caribbean country's most influential folk music styles—ancestral music usually played in popular religious celebrations. Then, it weaves through the past 45 years of Dominican music to reveal how these traditions were reinvented in contemporary music.
Lay back and listen, or get up and dance. But either way, enjoy!
To listen to the full songs on this playlist, you’ll need a Spotify account. Sign up here. It’s free.
Chapter 1: Folk Roots
In 1972, the Grupo Convite unknowingly began sowing the seeds of what would grow into the Dominican alternative music movement. They were traveling the countryside, researching and reappropriating the folk music of the Dominican Republic. They recreated ancestral songs and incorporated the rhythms they discovered into new compositions. Here’s some* of what they heard.
“San Rafael” by Enerolisa Nuñez & El Grupo de Salves de Mata de Los Indios
Singer-songwriter Enerolisa Nuñez is the most respected voice in the percussive call-and-response musical tradition known as salve. She comes from a family that has kept the tradition for centuries. Her daughter, the singer and percussionist Yenny Nuñez, and her son, Osvaldo Nuñez, accompany her in the band. They come from the community of Mata de Los Indios, Villa Mella, north of Santo Domingo.
“Merengue Maita” by Eriberto German Vargas
Accordionist, composer, and singer Eriberto German Vargas (known to some as Nicito) is the creator of the prí-prí style, which is played on the balsié drum, güira, and accordion at social gatherings and popular religious celebrations. Coming from Villa Mella to the north of Santo Domingo, Vargas died at age 105. He was still active as a musician.
“Ae Mamá Si E' y Candelo” by Mercedes Cuevas & Los Paleros de Nigua
This renowned singer and her band perform in the palos tradition. They come from Nigua, on the southwest of the island. Palos is a musical style performed on three long drums and accompanied by güira. It is the main music of popular religious celebrations.
“Cut Drill Rápido (Wild Indians)” by Francisco Noe Castellanos and Daniel Hendelson
When the Lesser Antilles were colonized by the English in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, immigrants from those islands settled in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic to work in the sugar industry. This song, sung in English, is performed by the Guloyas, a dance/theater group, and features snare drum, triangle, bass drum, and flute. In their celebrations, they display colorful costumes.
“Sarandunga de Lo Finao” by Domingo, Carlos, and Pinio Báez
Style: Sarandunga de Bani
This music, played in Bani, a city in the Dominican southwest, is performed as part of the procession for Saint John the Baptist Day (June 24). It’s played with three little drums called tamboritas, along with a güira. It is a combination of songs called moranos, and jacana and bomba dance rhythms.
Chapter 2: Alternative Pioneers
The generations that followed adopted the Convite practice of going to the countryside to study folk music. These research trips have been integral to the learning and creative processes that led to Dominican jazz and alternative music. One member of Convite was Luis Días, the prolific and pathbreaking Dominican composer who would one day be hailed as the creator of Dominican alternative music and rock. Along with Días, a group of singers, songwriters, and musicians including José Duluc, Tony Vicioso, Xiomara Fortuna, Patricia Pereyra, David Almengot, and myself with my partner, Tadeu De Marco, came together in the 1980s to create the pioneering Dominican alternative music movement. We fused folk and merengue with jazz, blues, rock, Brazilian, and other Caribbean music.
Luis Días, known as “El Terror,” was from the countryside of Bonao in the center of the island. His father was a tres player (six-string guitar) and his mother was a folk singer. He began as guitarist and singer for the band Convite but went on to become the most important and prolific Dominican composer of our time. He died in 2009, leaving behind hundreds of songs in myriad styles. Días was a cult figure who transformed contemporary Dominican music forever.
“Moreno Graciano (Canto de Trabajo)” by Luis Días
Style: Convite Group Song
“El Carrito Gris” by Luis Días
“Palo E'San Juan” by Luis Días
“Liborio” by Luis Días
“De Bufeo en Bufeo” by Luis Días
“El Caminante” by José Duluc
Duluc grew up near rural areas exposed to several folkloric traditions. He is an iconic figure of the Dominican alternative music and an accomplished percussionist, composer, singer, and dancer. In the eighties, he led Los Guerreros del Fuego, a popular dance group that created transcendental songs whose music is still influencing new artists.
“Entre Ceja y Ceja” by Xiomara Fortuna
Xiomara Fortuna is a self-taught artist, humanist, composer, author, producer, and singer from Monte Cristi in the northwest. Across 12 albums and scores of compositions featuring her unparalleled contralto voice, she has created a style that incorporates a diversity of indigenous rhythms into contemporary formats and that has earned her the nickname “Reina de la Fusion.”
“Pies de Lluvia” by Patricia Pereyra
“La Dama del Blues” comes from Santiago in the middle of the island. She is a poet that creates profound melodies from her words. She delivers songs anchored in emotions and tinted with blues melodies and Caribbean music.
“Sol Explosivo” by Irka y Tadeu
A little bit about me! I’m from Santo Domingo and from 1985 to 1996 I wrote songs and sang with composer and arranger Tadeu De Marco from the Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. We brought a Caribbean–Brazilian fusion to the movement, enjoyed broad popularity, and toured extensively. Today we are pursuing solo careers, but our legacy albums will soon be available in streaming format. This is our first single, recorded in 1987. It's a mix of Dominican merengue and Brazilian frevo.
“Parece que va a llover” by David Almengot y Maracande
From Santo Domingo, David Almengot emerged from the generation of percussionists and dancers trained during the ’80s at Fradique Lizardo’s folkloric ballet, an important institution in the country. He started his music career as a percussionist on the alternative music scene, playing with nearly every band. Later, he became a composer and arranger, calling his genre “music in movement” and introducing rhythm changes and percussion hits to his explosive dance music.
Chapter 3: The Next Generation
The pioneers, in turn, influenced the next generation of artists, which is adding electronic and experimental music to the mix. This new group includes Rita Indiana, Jarina De Marco, Anthony Ocaña, Carolina Camacho, Riccie Oriach, and others.
“La hora de volve” by Rita Indiana
Rita Indiana is a writer and singer-songwriter. She lives in Puerto Rico. Rita has published several novels, and in 2011, the newspaper El País selected her as one of the 100 Most Influential Latin American personalities. She gives a unique twist to Dominican urban mambo, creating a new electronic merengue style that took the pop music world by storm.
“Para Navegar” by Jarina De Marco
Jarina De Marco is my Dominican–Brazilian daughter with Tadeu. An L.A. resident, she is a favorite of the global electronic pop world. Her music is the result of spending her formative years with us, traveling the Dominican countryside on ethnic musicological trips and immersed in jazz and music from around the globe, including ’70s funk, ’90s trip hop, hip hop, and electronic music. Today, she finds herself weaving traditional songs or melodies into everything she does, cultivating thousands of followers around the world.
“La Última Cena de Rita” by Anthony Ocaña
Anthony Ocaña comes from Santo Domingo and lives in Madrid. His work has opened up a new world for Dominican guitar. Dominican folk music has been an important ingredient in his compositions along with minimalism, experimental and world music, which have combined to structure his highly unique creative language.
“Palo de Colores” by Carolina Camacho
Carolina Camacho is from Santo Domingo and lives in Mexico. Her music is a mixture of Afro-Caribbean rhythms with an alternative and electronic feel. Using her voice as her principal instrument she aims to give Dominican folkloric music a modern sound and image using a Loop Station in performances. Her lyrics talk about heritage, the empowerment of women, and nature, getting people to think and dance at the same time.
“El Mosquitero” by Riccie Oriach & la Alucinante Banda
Hailing from Santo Domingo, Riccie is the newest emerging artist with a significant following. He is a singer-songwriter and storyteller whose music is intended for dancing. His songs bring together rhythm, melody, and lyrics inspired by Dominican folk, Caribbean, and world music.
Chapter 4: Jazz
In the jazz scene, there is also a passion for going to the source. Artists like Yasser Tejeda, Josean Jacobo, and Isaac Hernandez are using the indigenous/Afro/European rhythms that still pulse in rural areas as the bedrock of their compositions.
“Navegando con el Viento” by Josean Jacobo & Tumbao
Josean Jacobo, from Santo Domingo, is a piano player and composer. With his band, Tumbao, he takes us on a musical journey through the identity of the Dominican people and our culture, infusing jazz with some of the rhythms of our land and roots. These rhythms, played on folk instruments, embellish the world of jazz and Latin jazzand with different colors and nuances.
“Isla” by Isaac Hernandez Quintet
Isaac Hernandez comes from Santiago. He is a guitarist, composer, and arranger who mixes Dominican folk, avant-garde music, jazz harmony, and improvisation. Hernandez's music is strongly connected to the Dominican cultural musical heritage, respecting the tradition and language of Afro-Dominican music without losing curiosity, taking our roots to a new level and revealing a fresh new voice in jazz.
“El Merenguito” by Yasser Tejeda & Palotré
Yasser Tejeda & Palotré is an Afro-Dominican fusion quartet that blends traditional folk-roots music from the Dominican Republic with jazz, rock, and Caribbean beats. Palotré's debut album, Mezclansa (2009), was named one of the "100 Essential Recordings of Dominican Music" by the Dominican Republic's Association of Art Writers (Acroarte).
About the Curator
Irka Mateo is a singer-songwriter from the Dominican Republic. She was part of Irka & Tadeu and Irka con Bohuti before leading La Tirindanga, her latest project. Currently she writes “mestizo music,” accordion and guitar-led songs inspired by the indigenous/Afro/European folk traditions of her native country, as well as the wider Caribbean and Latin America styles. Irka documented more than 13 folk music traditions from the countryside. Her extensive field research, recognized by the Grammy Foundation, allowed her to create an archive of Dominican folk music. Irka introduced the Dominican accordion into the Dominican/Latin alternative scene. She brought to light comarca, a wholly unknown genre outside of the countryside and was the first woman to play traditional percussion in urban settings.
*There are other artists and styles that do not have a presence on Spotify but are just as important to defining contemporary Dominican music. They are: Los Congos de Villa Mella, funerary music; Cundengo, Dominican son and merengue tres guitar player; Gaga, Haitian-Dominican braceros music; and the accordion music of the Dominican southwest.
"Merengue Maita (Prí-Prí)," "Cut Drill Rápido (Wild Indians)", and "Sarandunga de Lo Finaos" were extracted from the album Jaleo Dominicano produced by anthropologist Soraya Aracena.
"Ae Mama Si E' y Candelo" and "San Rafael" are from the albums Música Raíz Dominicana (Vol. 1 and Vol.2) produced by Bayahonda, Roldan Mármol cultural agent.