For a country as culturally diverse as the DR, it is an unfortunate reality that
most of that culture is invisible to the public at large. Because of historical
pressures and a lack of integrated social-cultural education, the depth of the
DR’s cultural heritage and history has been pushed into the background, allowing
only a few curious individuals to appreciate it. Add to this phenomenon the
reality that contemporary Dominican culture has become a commodity that is now
packaged and sold as a tourist attraction, ignoring the full spectrum of what
this country really is. Racism, anti-Haitianism, anti-Africanism, Europeanism,
Blanquismo and Catholicism are just some of the words that have come to define
and shape what today is considered Dominican culture and has created complex
identity issues for this country, but this is slowly changing, and it is
motivated Dominican youth who are helping that change. |
Unbeknownst to most Dominicans, who shy away from, or are ignorant of this rich
history, most of the music they listen to is heavily influenced by remnants of
the Taino and African cultures. Many would be surprised, and some would try to
deny the influence of African, Haitian and Taino culture in this music, but it
is these mixes of culture that make the DR what it is. It is through music that
some are trying to revive and recapture that history, creating a cultural and
historical bond and educating the Dominican community about who they are. The
challenge is tough, erasing hundreds of years of ideology and replacing it with
ideas that have been rejected and at times considered blasphemous, but the
change, for a variety of reasons, is happening. The DR is an Afro-Caribbean
nation and though it has been affected by a denial of its heritage, it has been
able to, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons, preserve some
African music and culture.
Dominican music at its roots:
Gaga, played during Easter, is a form of music that developed parallel with
Haitian Rara and evolved in the bateys (cane cutter settlements). It is a
spiritual music, used during baptisms and other religious ceremonies. The
development of Gaga in the DR results from the movement of laborers from Haiti
to the DR. There are two types of Gaga: one style is found in Elias Piña and is
more theatrical. This style involves dramatic renditions of rape and death. The
other type of Gaga is seen as more rooted in spirituality and is less dramatic.
Gaga is performed in procession and is a celebration of life coming from death.
Appropriately, it is synchronized with the Christian celebration of Easter.
Dominicans have adapted the music, including the songs and the instruments, to
their own culture. Some popular Merengue songs are also performed to the Gaga
Música Congos del Espíritu Santo
The Congos can be heard in the community of Villa Mella, in the section known as
Mata los Indios, since the late 1500s when slaves were first brought to the
island. African influences are present in every aspect of this music. This music
is highly African in origin and is basically drum music. The music has
maintained its original form and is still sung in call and response form. This
style of music was usually sung while working where one person sang a line and
the response was one word. This was much the same as the slave music in the
southern United States. The roots of this style of music are pure African.
Palo, which means wood or stick in English, is a similar rhythm to Congos del
Espiritu Santo. The name usually refers to the rhythm which is played on three
tall drums with the largest of the three drums named the palo mayor, and the
smaller drums called palo menor. Each drum is made from a single tree-trunk and
the drums are accompanied by a guira, which is responsible for beating the
Salve is another call and response type of chanting that uses panderos, atabales
and other African instruments. Salves are highly ceremonial and are used in
pilgrimages and at parties dedicated to saints.
Sarandunga of Bani
The dance of the sarandunga is a manifestation of religious devotion to Saint
John the Baptist. The Saranduga is played between 23 and 24 of June. There are
three common rhythmic variations of this dance, two that are danceable and one
that isn’t. The two danceable rhythms are named "La Jacana" (live rhythm) and
the "Morano", a chant that exclusively complements the marriage ceremony
Los Atabales is probably the best representative of traditional African rhythms.
The Atabales is also called the Palos de Vela and there are an estimated 50
variants of these sounds particular to all regions in the DR. This is music of a
ceremonial nature that was brought to the island by the African slaves,
particularly from Cameroon, the Congo and Angola.
This music, also of African origin, was the national Dominican dance up until
the 19th century and became identified with the area of Jarabacoa in La Vega.
Originating from the phrase “good lawyer” this dance and music was brought to
the DR by the “cocolos” (Black immigrants from the British West Indies and the
United States) who migrated to the DR during the late 19th and early 20th
centuries. This folk music is particular to San Pedro de Macoris.