Following our night out at El Prodigio (see here if you missed the post), I’ve been doing a wee study of Dominican musical culture.
To say that Dominicans love music is to understate the case by a considerable degree. It seems they live for it. It’s in their blood (the Latin “heat”) and it has to be loud. Not just loud by our “stereo at full volume” standards but amplified to the sort of volume that might make Motorhead reach for earplugs. If our next door neighbour is listening to music, we struggle to hear the thoughts in our heads! We can happily sing along to the music being pumped out of bars at the end of our road (200m away) and we are sandwiched between three churches but never feel the need to enter to find out the contents of any sermons as we can hear them all quite clearly from home with all the doors and windows closed.
Cars drive by with their radios on and you can’t have a conversation for a minute as they approach and a minute after they have passed because the sound is just deafening. Lorries regularly drive by laden only with the kind of speakers you would expect to find at an open air rock concert, advertising the wares of local retailers or a political cause. The drivers of these vehicles must be stone deaf as the content of the message is nowhere near as important as the volume. The record I have counted in one lorry with 18 amps on the back which was promoting a candidate in next year’s presidential elections. It was so loud it had Zach and Katie in tears.
Having said all that, there appear to be only two types of music popular here. Slow and heart-rending (Bachata) or Madness-on-steriods (Merengue Tipico).
Heart. Love. Never. Lost. Broken. Lonely. Croon any random combination of these words, overlay some slow, guitar-based strumming, and you’ve got Bachata. Think of Morrisey on Downers and you’re almost there.
As far as I can make out, all Bachata songs follow one of only three themes:
* How can I tell her I love her when she doesn’t notice me?
* We’re in love and it’s wonderful
* She’s left me, how can I go on?
Probably the most popular Bachata cantador at the moment is Zacharias Ferreria. His current release is ‘Sobran Las Palabras’ (Words are Unnecessary). The first lines of the song are Puedo besarte ahora mi amor con todo el alma / Puedo robarte un beso solo con la mirada. (I can kiss you now my love with all my soul / I can steal a kiss just by looking at you).
You get the idea, but if you want more here’s a link to the song (don’t get it confused with the 1976 Spanish entry into the Eurovision Song Contest!)
Zacharias is coming to town tonight. The Atlantic Car Wahs (sic) is just what it sounds – a car wash. Albeit one with a bodega and some open scrubland attached. Sadly (or not) we can’t make is as we’ll be out of town.
Take Suggs at his Madness best. Add a bit of Buster Bloodvessel and the maddest bits of Bez from the Happy Mondays (showing my musical heritage!). Add an accordion. And a bloke playing a large cheese-grater. And voila – Merengue Tipico.
Merengue Tipico is lively and great for dancing also but is definitely a taste that has to be developed. Those who read our ‘El Prodigio’ post (see here) will know that a few weeks ago we went to a live Merengue Tipico performance – and that it is a taste that doesn’t work for us.
To get a sense of the night and of Merengue Tipico in action, here’s a YouTube video of one of El Prodigio’s live performances.
As far as I can make out, the songs do have lyrics. These can just about be heard, shouted above the tambora, cheese grater, saxaphone, drums, guitars and, of course, accordian. What the lyrics are, I have no idea – but I strongly suspect they follow the same three themes as Bachata (see above), just faster and LOUDER.
Would someone get me my Val Doonican slippers, please……..