Music is an integral part of any culture, and this especially holds true in the Dominican Republic, where it is commonly joked that children learn to dance before they walk. One of the best ways to experience the exuberance of Dominican music is to attend a concert, but giving a listen to the songs that have become linked to national identity will help familiarize you with the musical styles before a live performance. There are genres for every mood and setting, but no playlist about the country would be complete without some merengue, bachata, reggaeton and urban hits. Here, we present several Dominican musicians and some of their hits that have defined music from the country over the last fifty years.
Los Hermanos Rosario
Active since the late 1970s, this merengue band composed of brothers from Salva Leon de Higuey has become iconic. Alongside other old-school merengue musicians—like Fernando Villalona, Johnny Ventura, Wilfredo Vargas, and Juan Luis Guerra—Los Hermanos Rosario brought Dominican merengue music to a global audience, ushering in a period called “the golden age of merengue” throughout the 1980s. The single merengue song that most epitomizes this era is “La Dueña del Swing” with its fast-paced rhythm and strong percussive energy. It will be hard to keep your body from swinging along to the beat.
In the male-dominated music industry of the Dominican Republic, Milly Quezada rose to fame as a strong vocalist against all odds. Nicknamed the “queen of merengue,” Milly was born in Santo Domingo but her family moved to New York in the 1970s, where she and her sister first formed a merengue band and then later expanded into other genres like bachata and ballads. From when Milly and her sister Jocelyn formed a band together, “Entre Tu Cuerpo y El Mío” became an immediate merengue sensation in Dominican communities in the U.S. and back on the island. As a solo artist, Milly explored beyond merengue, and her emotional bachata song “Lo Qué Más” demonstrated her versatility.
Among the many Dominican musicians that draw from Afro-Caribbean influences, Rita Indiana has set herself apart for how she brings elements of urban and house music styles to the folkloric rhythms and merengue; her band employs instruments typical of Dominican merengue like the tambora and guira while also incorporating rap lyrics and electronic mixing. Often billed as techno-merengue, the style of her band, Rita Indiana y Los Misterios, speeds up merengue tempo and layers atop synth melodies, the result being innovative tracks like “La Hora de Volver” and “El Blue del Ping Pong.” Though her last album eigh years ago, she remains beloved in the Dominican Republic and recently headlined a music festival in Santo Domingo called Isle of Light. Rita has also gained a name for herself as a writer, performance artist, and activist.
Her song “Criminal” with the Puerto Rican singer Ozuna has topped the U.S. and global charts since its release in 2017, placing Natti Natasha firmly in the small club of female reggaeton superstars. Her love of music began as a child, singing in church, and she eventually trained formally in singing at the School of Fine Arts of Santiago in the Dominican Republic. She sang in vocal competitions, took any opportunity to perform and record, and her breakthrough came in 2010 when Don Omar heard her sing and signed her to his label. She then toured and opened for him, and now counts Ozuna, Daddy Yankee, and Bad Bunny among her collaborators. After her 2018 release of a pop single “Sin Pijama” with Becky G, she turned back to her Dominican roots with the bachata ballad “Quién Sabe,” and she is definitely an artist to watch.
A product of the Dominican diaspora, Prince Royce grew up in the Bronx with his Dominican parents, and his focus on bachata music plays up his heritage. Writing poetry as a teenager, Royce easily added in bachata rhythms and has written several songs, which are now considered to be classics of the genre. In 2011, he toured with Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull, and his bachata interpretation of the popular Ben E. King song “Stand By Me” with lyrics in a mix of English and Spanish gained popularity. Though two of his more recent hits, “Darte un Beso,” and “Déjà Vu” with Shakira are fully in Spanish, Royce is widely recognized as an artist who has successfully crossed over from mainly Spanish-speaking fans to the English-speaking public.