Various Artists, “Merengue Típico: Nueva Generación!”
By Richard Villegas · February 13, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Cassette, Compact Disc (CD)

The Caribbean is one of the most musically fertile regions in the world, catapulting beloved and much hybridized rhythms like son cubano, bachata, salsa, dancehall, and reggaetón into pop culture ubiquity. Merengue is another essential Afro-diasporic bastion, intrinsic to the musical DNA of the Dominican Republic. While most casual listeners might recognize the big band swing of merengue de salón—popularized during the mid-century, 30-year regime of General Rafael Leónidas Trujillo—or the electrified party anthems of ’90s merenhouse groups like Proyecto Uno and Fulanito, the genre’s exuberant campesino roots often go egregiously under-celebrated. That’s why a new compilation from Swiss label Bongo Joe titled Merengue Típico: Nueva Generación! is putting an overdue spotlight on the genre’s trailblazing icons and essential releases from the 1960s and ’70s.

Curated by Belgian DJ and studious crate-digger Xavier Daive, aka Funky Bompa, the album underscores merengue típico—also commonly referred to as perico ripiao—as a rhythmic cocktail of few but potent ingredients. Blaring accordion, scratching güira, and the propulsive banging of handcrafted drums called tamboras accompany songs filled with double entendres and folk storytelling. The compilation opens with Trio Rosario’s “Cuando Yo Muera,” an effusive edict to bestow the proverbial flowers upon your friends and family while they’re still around to smell them. Later, on Trio Royecell’s “La Pasión de Cristo,” the singer mourns his father and grandfather over a zooming, impassioned instrumental while conjuring biblical imagery of Christ on the cross—a reminder that so much of Caribbean roots music intersects with syncretic religious practices.

Merengue Típico: Nueva Generación! swings big with the notable, foundational inclusions of Rafaelito Román’s love-torn debut “Que Mala Suerte,” and Arístides Ramírez’s picaresque classic “Los Lanbones,” which cheekily eviscerates freeloading acquaintances. But perhaps the compilation’s greatest triumph is the addition of Fefita La Grande’s rendition of “Caña Brava,” a merengue standard dating back to the 1920s, and an enduring ode to sugarcane-distilled rum. Once a disciple of perico ripiao godfathers Guandulito, Tatico Henríquez, and Bartolo Alvarado “El Ciego de Nagua,” the 80-year old superstar and accordion prodigy is one of rural merengue’s last living icons. To this day, Fefita La Grande remains a fixture of the international stage, mythologized through flashy nicknames like “La Mayimba,” “La Vieja Fefa,” and “La Gran Soberana,” and even appearing in the music video for Rosalía and Tokischa’s 2021 monster hit, “Linda.” But most of all she embodies a country’s musical memory, bridging multiple generations of Dominican sonic heritage and standing as a defiant champion of campesino pride.

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