Merengue is dance music that fuses African traditions and instruments with French traditions in Haiti and Spanish traditions in the Dominican Republic.
As elsewhere in the African Diaspora, drums play a prominent role in the music’s structure. The power of the drums in this social music derives in part from attributing human traits to the instruments, including the naman (a deep-toned floor drum), seconde (a middle-voiced drum), and bébé (a small, high-pitched drum).
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Combining Spanish and African traditions, rumba originated among Afro-Cubans and is broadly embraced in popular Cuban culture. Rumba songs explore themes of everyday life — love and desire, rejection and persecution, social circumstances and socio-political feelings.
There are three basic types of rumba: Guaguanco, with dense percussion usage; Yambú, slower paced, with a lighter percussion treatment; and Colombia, reminiscent of Yoruba sacred songs, with pronounced rhythmic syncopation, short songs and choruses.
Because drums were banned during the period of slavery, rumbas were often accompanied by a percussive ensemble of bottles, pans and boxes. Conga drums evolved from the musical use of different-sized boxes (cajones) by enslaved Africans in Cuba at a time when drums were banned to restrict communication among them. Mambo and Salsa are among the other musical forms played in Cuba that have African roots.
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“Because drums were banned during the period of slavery, rumbas were often accompanied by a percussive ensemble of bottles, pans and boxes.”
Samba originated during the 19th century among formerly enslaved black Brazilians in poor hill and rural communities in Bahia. The pulsating freedom of its dance expression has roots in Bantu rhythmic patterns, and the word Samba derives from the Bantu term, samba. Introduced into carnival in Rio around 1900, Samba transcended class and racial lines. The music traces the development of Brazilian collective consciousness from the nationalism of the 1930s, to folkloric and literary themes in the 1960s, to such issues as poverty, inequality, discrimination and inflation in the 1980s.
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This West Indian folk song and dance form began among enslaved Africans on plantations. Forbidden to talk openly with one another, they shared information and opinions using coded language, full of double meanings. A central element of the genre is allegorical storytelling, commenting on politics, scandal and other aspects of social and everyday life.
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Picking up broadcasts of African American musicians like Fats Domino from coastal cities like New Orleans, musicians in Jamaica combined rhythm and blues with Caribbean rhythms, creating the distinctive accent pattern of ska. Reggae conveys feelings about racism, poverty, and political and economic conditions, while celebrating the joy of life in song and dance.
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“Reggae conveys feelings about racism, poverty, and political and economic conditions, while celebrating the joy of life in song and dance.”
Ska was high-energy dance music that gave way in the mid-1960s to a slower, more deliberate form known as rock steady. Reggae emerged from rock steady when musicians experimented with longer songs and open-ended instrumental improvisation.