Merengue is a type of music strongly associated with Dominican national identity. The genre started gaining in popularity in the mid-19th century, displacing the current musical leader, tumba. Influenced by Spanish decema and plena, merengue is probably a close cousin of the Haitian "meringue", a musical genre sung in Creole but with a slower tempo and more sentimental melody.
Merengue Tipico: The early merengue was called "merengue tipico" and was origianally played on accordion (introduced by German trade merchants), saxophone, box bass, guyano and double-ended tambora drum. It was the music of the lower-classes in the early 20th century, called obscene because of oblique references to sexual and political issues.
Evolution of Merengue: In the 1930s, merengue came into its own during the dictatorship of Rafael Turjillo. Because of his country roots, he was already a merengue fan; during his presidential campaign he asked several bands to write merengue music promoting his political bid and was a champion of merengue as the symbolic music of national culture. But Trujillo's rule was a reign of terror, and the somber mood of the country was reflected in its music.
With the assassination of Trujillo in 1961, merengue starting incorporating American rock, R&B and Cuban salsa elements. The instrumentation changed, with electronic guitars and synthesizer replacing the traditional accordion. The first internationally well-known musician (and Dominican idol at the time) promoting merengue was Johnny Ventura.
Johnny Ventura: Johnny Ventura started playing music in 1956 with the espoused goal of "waking up the audience." He succeeded by adding matching costumes and synchronized dance movement ala Motown. Ventura was the undisputed 'King of Merengue' for 3 decades, abetted by the "pay-as-you-play" (payola) radio promotion system that is still in effect today.
Wilfrido Vargas: In the 1970s and 1980s, attention turned from Ventura to Wilfrido Vargas, the trumpeter and composer who was primarily responsible for bringing merengue to an international audience.
Ventura had taken the first step in modernizing merengue; Vargas took it a step further. He increased the tempo to what it is today - a distinctive galloping speed. He then started fusing the predictable music with Latin American rhythms such as Colombian cumbia, reggae and eventually added hip hop and rap to the mix. He also broadened the appeal of the music by covering familiar Latin American ballads in the merengue style.
Milly Quezada: There were many merengue stars that made their claim to fame during the 1990s including Jossie Esteban y La Patrulla 15, Sergio Vargas and Bonny Cepeda but the vocalist - and one of the few famale merengue artists - that caught the public's attention was Milly Quezada.
Vying for the title of 'Queen of Merengue' with Puerto Rico's Olga Tanon is Milly Quezada. Before embarking on a solo career, Quezada was originally the lead vocalist for Milly y Los Vecinos which, while based in New York, proved that merengue could be popular and successful in the enclave of Puerto Rican salsa.
Merengue Spreads from the Dominican Republic: Merengue did have an uphill battle catching on in New York but finally made successful inroads among the dance-crazy population. Helping to promote merengue's popularity was the large influx of Dominicans into the Puerto Rican dominated city. Over time, Dominican merengue gained an equal footing with Puerto Rican salsa romantica both in the dancehalls and on the radio.
Olga Tanon & Elvis Crespo: As merengue's popularity increased with New York's Puerto Rican population, the Caribbean island started to spawn its own merengue stars. Chief among them is Olga Tanon, the other "Queen of Merengue" and probably the artist most responsible for promoting the genres popularity in Puerto Rico itself. Tanon's style is unique and wild, her contralto voice is strong and her music often courses through styles from electronic to flamenco.
Elvis Crespo hit the Puerto Rican merengue scene with a big bang. While his musical style is similar to Tanon's, his look is unique with characteristic long, straight black hair and wild, trippy antics. Crespo originally sang with Grupo Mania before breaking out on his own in 1998. His debut album was the massive hit, Suavemente.
The following list offers some of the best Reggaeton songs ever produced. If you are just getting into Reggaeton or want to get a party playlist of classic tracks from this genre, this is a good point to start. The list include some of the biggest names of Reggaeton music and so it includes hits from Don Omar, Wisin y Yandel, Tego Calderon and Daddy Yankee.
10. "Pasarela" - Dalmata
This has been one of the most popular songs produced by Dalmata. The track, which is part of the 2007 collaboration work with Ñejo, offers an interesting melody that plays Reggaeton along Mariachi arrangements. A very nice song for a Reggaeton party night.
Album: Broke & Famous
9. "Baila Morena" - Hector y Tito (feat. Glory and Don Omar)
One of the most famous singles from Reggaeton duo Hector y Tito, "Baila Morena" includes the participation of Glory and Reggaeton superstar Don Omar. This single is usually considered one of the best Reggaeton songs.
Album: Season Finale
8. "Lo Que Paso Paso" - Daddy Yankee
From Daddy Yankee's hit album Barrio Fino, "Lo Que Paso Paso" is one of the best singles on this musical production. A perfect song for a party night and a playlist dealing with best Reggaeton songs.
Album: Barrio Fino
7. "Metele Sazon" - Tego Calderon
From one of the greates Reggaeton pioneers, "Metele Sazon" is one of Tego's best singles. On this track, Tego Calderon displays his distinctive flow that has captured Reggaeton fans all over the world.
Album: Mas Flow
6. "Felina" - Hector y Tito
One of the best song from Hector y Tito, this song offers the traditional contrast of voices that characterized the musical production developed by this Reggaeton duo.
Album: A La Reconquista
5. "Baila Conmigo" - Zion y Lennox
"Baila Conmigo" is part of the Reggaeton compilation album Desafio. This is a 2003 hit from the Puerto Rican duo and it is definitely one of the best Reggaeton songs especially if you are in a dancing mood.
4. "Oye Mi Canto" - N.O.R.E. (feat. Daddy Yankee)
"Oye Mi Canto" has been one of the most succesful songs especially on radio stations. The melody offers a nice contrast of good Reggaeton flow with the female chorus that goes along the song. This is one of the best singles by N.O.R.E and the track includes the participation of Daddy Yankee.
Album: Oye Mi Canto
3. "Rakata" - Wisin y Yandel
Reggaeton's most popular duo Wisin y Yandel have produced many hits. "Rakata" is regarded as one of the best Reggaeton songs ever produced by the Puerto Rican artists.
Album: Mas Flow 2
2. "Dile" - Don Omar
From the album The Last Don, this track became one of the biggest hits in the musical career of Don Omar. The single offers a great interpretation from one of today's most influential Reggaeton stars.
Album: The Last Don
1. "Gasolina" - Daddy Yankee"
Gasolina" is probably the most famous Reggaeton song in history. This track became a worldwide hit that moved Reggaeton music to new levels of popularity. Thanks to this song, Daddy Yankee became a superstar of this genre.
Album: Barrio Fino
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