Although we think of them as an ensemble of Dominican rhythmic traditions, they’re actually a cultural blend that began with our early settlers —the walls at the Pomier Caves still carry evidence of the areíto dances of the Taíno people— and grows richer throughout our exchanges with Europe and Africa.

With Identity and Magic, folklorist Dagoberto Tejeda narrates the story of our musical genres, our instruments, our celebrations and the everyday impact of this melting pot, illustrated via the colorful snapshots of Mariano Hernández and Pedro Genaro Rodríguez. The book thus becomes a priceless tool to help examine in detail the evolution of the folkloric dances that make up the cultural heritage of the Dominican Republic. It also bears witness to those steps that our feet have forgotten, and yet their remnants are still evident in our present, leaving their trace on the many dances that are bound to come.

THE ELEMENTS OF MAGIC

Musical genres Perico ripiao

The perico ripiao is the traditional merengue group, performed with an accordion, the güira and the local drum. As Jean-Baptiste Labat mused, nobody really teaches Dominicans how to dance or play merengue; they learn inside the womb and, once they’re born, a party breaks out at home. More than performers, perico ripiao musicians are part of our cultural heritage: they preserve musical traditions and strengthen our identity. There ain’t no perico ripiao anywhere else but in the Dominican Republic!

El perico ripiao

Festivities Gagá

As a cultural expression, Gagá is part of the African heritage present in the island of Hispaniola. Both in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, this celebration marks the arrival of spring, which coincides with the Easter rituals of the Catholic liturgy. The Gagá groups are led by dancers called “majors,” who are bound to wear a special costume: up to 500 colorful handkerchiefs hanging from their waist, as a symbol of their deities.

Characters Roba la Gallina

The generously plump Roba la Gallina (steal the chicken) goes around mini-markets and street vendors asking for money or treats for its chicks —that is, the town’s youngsters who follow the character in a cheerful procession. As legend has it, the name comes from a time when those found stealing chickens would be covered in tar and feathers and paraded through town as a form of justice.

Personajes El Roba la Gallina

Attire Skirting the issue

There’s something symbolically spiritual and cultural in the costumes worn by folkloric dancers, but the skirt worn by women has an added meaning: by waving it, they are creating life. That move also showcases the aesthetic dimensions of the interior worlds of the dancers, who define identities and even produce visual improvisations that reach the unexpected, the unknown and the innovative.

Indumentaria Mover la falda

Migrations Cocolos

At the start of the 19th century, the enormous Dominican sugar industry was in dire need of a larger workforce, so it looked to the British West Indies. The sugar mills of San Pedro de Macorís thus welcomed the so-called “Cocolos,” who brought with them a new set of beliefs and their folklore —including a roving dance theater declared World Heritage in 2005. Today’s arabesque dance troupes known as “Alí Babá,” featuring Cocolo-based music, are a highlight of the Dominican carnival.

Migraciones Los cocolos

Symbolism The paraphernalia of syncretism

The symbolic paraphernalia of Dominican spirituality is a colorful syncretic expression of religious essences. Together, the colors green and red point towards Belié Belkán, whose godfather is the Catholic figure Saint Michael. The bell attracts the “Mysteries” or spirits, as well as the “metresas” (female spirits), deities of popular religion, while the candlelight purifies and opens paths.

Simbolismo Parafernalia sincrética

Everyday instruments The oboe

Black Maroons in Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic used the seashell oboe, also known as the conch oboe, for their survival. Some Dominican communities still use it as a way of drawing attention to the many meat cuts available in butcher shops. In fact, in recent times oboes were used during street protests in Santo Domingo, in order to alert civilians about approaching police forces.

Instrumentos cotidianos El fututo

Percussion instruments The Dominican drum

The mother of merengue hails from Burkina Faso and Madagascar in Africa… and yet its sound is completely our own. In fact, foreign musicians find playing it close to impossible. It’s built out of a hollow trunk and two patches of goatskin: the right one —made from female goatskin— is hit with a stick, while the left one —made from male goatskin— is hit with the hand, each side with a different beat.

Instrumentos de percusión La tambora

Wind instruments The saxophone

Although it hails from late-19th-century Belgium and was introduced to the Dominican Republic via the many waves of European arrivals, the saxophone went local and later became an essential part of our musical culture. Indeed, in the early 20th century commercial music bands added it to the perico ripiao lineup, making it far more palatable for many dancers.

Instrumentos de viento El saxofón

Idiophone instruments The gourd guiro

Some researchers suggest that, as a scraping musical instrument, the gourd guiro is of indigenous origin. However, it was documented during the colonial period, then known as the “calabacito rascador de Fandango.” The truth is that the guiro still prevails in several Dominican folk rhythms. Alongside the gourd guiro there’s the metal guiro, part of our African heritage, usually heard in the atabales, merengue, salve, sarandunga, bamboulá, son and bachata.

Instrumentos idiófonos La güira

Harmonic instruments The accordion

The accordion that made its way from Germany to Puerto Plata in the late 19th century eventually spread all over the country. Due to its rhythmical structure, capable of expressing tonic and dominant, many learned to play it by ear —no formal training necessary. In the Cibao region in particular it replaced traditional string instruments, taking over merengue and, along with the drums and the guiro, established the typical set for popular music that is now part of our national identity.

Instrumentos armónicos El acordeón_

Chordophone instruments The guitar

String instruments were brought to the island by the Spaniards amid the colonization period, and the guitar was their instrument of choice for their balls. When things went awry for trade between the motherland and the colony, local creativity stepped up to the plate: this is how the dos (two), the tres (three), the cuatro (four), the quinto (fifth) and the requinto appeared — and some still exist nowadays.

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THE TEAM

Dagoberto Tejeda Ortíz

Folklorist, sociologist and researcher

Mariano Hernández

Photographer

Pedro Genaro

Photographer

Edis Sánchez

Folklorist and musicologist

Elisaury Suárez

Cartographer

Basilio Belliard

Poet, literary critic and copy editor

Julián Amado

Illustrator

Martha Lugo

Editorial director

María Rosa Baquero

Art director and designer

Carmen Nova

Creative advisor

Christian Lugo

Translator