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Merengue is a crisp, jaunty 2/4 dance rhythm originating in the Dominican Republic in the mid-19th century. The name (literally "meringue") is believed to have been imposed because dancers movements resembled a whisk beating egg white and sugar into meringue. Rural instrumentation includes the accordion, the barrel-shaped, double headed tambora drum and the metal güiro or scraper, played with a kind of wire fork to give a hard hissing sound. The alto sax was adopted, in a style reminiscent of New Orleans Creole clarinetists. Polite upper class society rejected the dance as vulgar until Rafael Trujillo, from the grassroots and a practitioner of the dance, became dictator in 1930; then it became DR's national dance. Urban brass-led bands retained the tambora, güiro and sax. Prominent names to emerge from the '50s to '70s included Alberto Beltrán, Angel Viloria and his Conjunto Típico Cibaeño, featuring singer Dioris Valladares, Johnny Ventura and Cuco Valoy. Wilfrido Vargas surfaced during the mid-'70s. His '78 LP Punto y Aparte! on Karen marked a watershed, the track "El Barbarazo" in particular was seen as the "new merengue". In the early '80s merengue became a major force, due to significant Dominican immigration in NYC; the pace of the style became more frantic and the concerts and LPs became more popular than salsa. Vargas was in the vanguard, starting from pure merengue but incorporating traces of soca, cadence, funk, rap, etc. The merengue boom began to slow down by '86. From the late '80s into the '90s most recorded merengue became increasingly undistinguished and disposable, exceptions included the experimental work of international superstar Juan Luis Guerra, who also made extremely successful use of the Dominican rural bachata form. Merengue hip-hop or house became a major force '96, its most successful exponents being Proyecto Uno, Los Ilegales and Sandy and Papo MC.
- John Child