Decline and Resurgence of Merengue

Rebecca González Pérez (Primera Hora) writes about merengue as a musical genre that, originally from the Dominican Republic, flourished in Puerto Rico, but has recently seen a decline in popularity. Says González, “When we think of that genre, what comes to mind are important exponents of merengue such as Johnny Ventura, Jossie Esteban and Patrulla 15, Wilfrido Vargas, and Jochy Hernandez, from the Dominican Republic; and from Puerto Rico, we must not forget Conjunto Quisqueya, an orchestra with Dominican musicians, but founded on the island.” She mentions other pioneers like “Father of Merengue” José Medina, who was the first Puerto Rican merengue soloist, as well as groups such as Los Sabrosos del Merengue and the all-female group Las Chicas del Clan.

The author stresses the surge of unsuspected levels of popularity that the Dominican rhythm had in the nineties in Puerto Rico, where local advocates of merengue took center stage. Soloists and groups such as Grupomanía, Limi-T 21, Olga Tañon, Zona Roja, Elvis Crespo, and Manny Manuel managed to inspire more talents to follow them and join a musical movement that became stronger every day and garnered attention for nearly 10 years. No one suspected that there would be a decline that, according to exponents of the genre, began to be felt starting in the year 2000.

According to Puerto Rican performer, arranger and musician Tonny Tun Tun, several factors caused merengue to weaken, among them, a need for restructuring, originality, and innovation. Stressing that it had also happened in the Dominican Republic, he says that there were many groups that sounded alike: “Not having diversity, quality, and originality weakened merengue because eventually people grew tired of it.” He adds that “it is dangerous for any genre to fall into the repetitive [because] other genres vying for a position can insert themselves and take over.” Ray López “The Missile” coincides with Tun Tun in saying that it is important to keep an individual style and to continue reinventing the genre creatively. López underlines that this is why he most admires Elvis Crespo, “because he is always inventing.”

According to the article, the decline of merengue coincided with the surge of popularity of reggaeton and other types of urban music. However, the very same genres that took over the central stage, are helping to revive merengue. Ángel Pérez (aka “Papito el Bello) from the group Karís, El Poder del Swing, states, “Everything is a cycle. [. . .] Reggaeton closed the door and now it is opening it.” David Robles, from the same group, understands that part of the new merengue boom is due to the fact that reggaeton singers were running out of “weaponry” and they sought out rhythms from merengue and bachata in order to survive; therefore, the doors have opened again for merengue, but it is now urban merengue [merengue urbano]. In conclusion, regarding the resurgence of merengue, all agree that space and opportunity should be given to new talents so that the genre continues to evolve.

For two examples of merengue urbano, listen to Elvis Crespo’s “Hey Dude” here:

and Omega’s merengue urbano mix here:

For original article (in Spanish), see

Photo: Olga Tañon.

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