Tag Archives: Dominican Republic

Artist Profiles: Xiomara Fortuna

Xiomara Fortuna

Xiomara Fortuna was born in 1959 in Montecristi, in the Dominican Republic’s northwest region, near the Haitian border. Montecristi is a peaceful place with friendly neighbors and little controversy, where Xiomara heard the native folk rhythms of the mangulina. Her mother, Doménica, was always singing while she cooked or cleaned the house. She taught Xiomara the songs of the farmers and shoemakers. But young Xiomara also listened to socially conscious Cuban music on Radio Rebelde (Rebel Radio), broadcast from Cuba. Some of her favorites were Cuban nueva trova singers Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés. Xiomara’s first songs and lyrics were composed while she was in high school, accompanying herself with an acoustic guitar. She later studied at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) in the nation’s capital. Xiomara performed in the capital and also traveled throughout the Dominican Republic, playing in many different towns, at clubs and local holiday celebrations.

Xiomara studied Brazilian music with Chiqui Vicioso and also listened to American jazz recordings. Soon she became very interested in the rhythms from the other islands and the different kinds of jazz. She became well versed in her island’s cultural, musical and literary artistic traditions and she became a member of the group Kaliumbe, invited by its leader, Tony Vicioso. Her experience with Tony Vicioso was really important. He composed music for Xiomara and introduced her to roots music from the different communities in the country.

The first European country she visited as a performer was Switzerland. An NGO named Helvetas sponsored a tour under the name “De la loma al llano”. Until then, most European only knew about Dominican merengue so they were surprised to find new rhythms like the mangulina, pripri, salve, congos and gaga.

Most record producers in the Dominican Republic were only interested in merengue and popular dance music. This laco of interest in roots music led Xiomara to travel to France, where she spent a few months working on a solo recording and collaborating with jazz musician Archie Shepp, Maurice Cullaz, and she shared the stage with a host of world music artists and ensembles including Miriam Makeba, Vocal Sampling, Farafina, and Toure Kunda.

Known as one of the most progressive artists of her country, Fortuna’s Kumbajei CD was the culmination of her exhaustive musicological investigations of the Dominican Republic’s little-known African-rooted folkloric styles. On Kumbajei, she combined jazz, Caribbean, pan-African and world music influences. A skilled Dominican ensemble featuring drums, percussion, bass, keyboards, and horns and vocal chorus backed her full-bodied contralto. The festive love song, “Baisabi,” was written by Fortuna’s collaborator Jostibi, with a melody derived from traveling flower vendors and an arrangement based on the saranduga: a dance music genre from Bani. The album’s other tracks – from “Leyenda Congo,””An Ale,” to “Letania” and “La Napa”— highlight other Afro-Dominican rhythms: including the Congo of the cofradia religious brotherhood of Villa Mella, the Hatian/Vodu-derived petro and the Carabine from the southern portion of the island. The Dominican genres are blended with reggaejazz improvisation and Pan-African world music styles that gives Fortuna’s music a foreign and familiar feel.


De la Loma al Llano (1985)
Balbuceos (1996)
Pan Music and Música Raíces (1997)
Kumbajei (Circular Moves, 2001)
Ella ta’ í (2002)
Tonada para un Querer (2004)
La Calle Será La Calle(2009)
Paseando (2010)
Pa Cantarte a tí (2010)


Artist Profiles: Super Uba y su Conjunto

Super Uba

Super Uba, a skilled vocalist from Santiago in the Dominican Republic, performs music that represents the island’s diverse musical culture. The band combines modern bachata guitar styles with classic son, bolero and merengue rhythms.

Ubaldo Cabrera was born to a farming family in the rural town of Guateque de la Isabela, near Puerto Plata. At age 19 he was drawn by his love for music to the city of Santiago, where he lived with an uncle who taught him to sing and play the guitar. Santiago is the heart of the Cibao, the northern region of the Dominican Republic which is the cradle of merengue. When Uba talks about the city as it was in the 1970s, he describes a culture where music thrived. “At that time, someone could go to an open air bar, or to a night club, and start playing, and if he was good, crowds would gather to listen to him.”

Uba supported himself playing all of the different styles of music which he sings on his CD; as a bass player with various groups playing bachata and merengue, and as a singer in a trio which played traditional bolero and son. Finally he arrived to New York in 1995, touring with bachata legend Leonardo Paniagua. He makes his home now in Brooklyn, New York.

Uba comes from a culture where the folkloric legacy is still cherished and he gives a unique flavor to his country’s music. He has a distinctly Afro-Caribbean vocal and compositional style. His original merengues, Tierra Lejana and Doña Inez, are excellent examples of this living tradition.

Uba’s singing is complemented by the virtuoso guitar playing of his longtime friend, Edilio Paredes. Edilio is a remarkable natural talent.


Tierra Lejana ‎(Iaso Records, 2001)


Artist Profiles: Michel Camilo

Michel Camilo

Michel Camilo was born into a musical family and played accordion before switching to piano at the age of nine. In 1979, he arrived to New York, where the self-taught student of American jazz, continued his studies and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985. After three years as a member of Paquito D’Rivera’s band, in 1988, Camilo released his self-titled Epic debut. The album became an instant success and held the top jazz album spot for eight consecutive weeks. His next recording, On Fire, was voted one of the top three Jazz Albums of the Year by Billboard and 1990s On the Other Hand was a top-ten jazz album.

In 2000, Camilo’s Verve release, Spain, with Spanish flamenco guitar maestro Tomatito, won Best Latin Jazz Album in the first-ever Latin Grammy Awards. Camilo also appeared on the soundtrack CD for the acclaimed Latin jazz film Calle 54, directed by the Oscar-winning Spaniard Fernando Trueba.

2002 marked a special year for the ever-versatile Camilo with the release of two albums, one classical and one Jazz. In February, Decca released his Concerto for Piano & Orchestra, Suite for Piano, Strings and Harp & Caribe, to celebrate his guest appearance with the NSO conducted by Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and in March Telarc released Triangulo.

August 2003 marked the Telarc release of Live at the Blue Note, featuring Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on drums and Charles Flores on acoustic bass. This two-CD set captures the quintessential Camilo “sound” live for the first time. Camilo called upon drummer Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez to bring his rich Cuban roots and spirit, which he expresses unlike any other drummer. The 1997 Grammy Award winner performed and recorded with legends such as McCoy Tyner, Carlos Santana, and as a member of renowned Latin ensembles like Tito Puente’s Tropi-Jazz All Stars, El Negro has earned a renowned reputation as one of the most powerful and versatile players in the current musical scene.

Bassist Charles Flores played and inspired the best, while continuing to challenge himself and his peers in new artistic directions. A graduate of Cuba’s prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte, Flores has performed and recorded with Juan Pablo Torres, Steve Turre, Jane Bunnett and the BBC Orchestra in London masters. While in Cuba, Charles was recruited by one of the most important figures in the history of Cuban jazz, pianist Emiliano Salvador. In addition, Flores was also the bassist for the groundbreaking Cuban fusion group AfroCuba and for Salsa sensation Isaac Delgado.


French Toast (Electric Bird, 1984)
Why Not? (Electric Bird, 1985)
Suntan/In Trio (Electric Bird, 1986)
Michel Camilo (CBS Portrait, 1988)
On Fire (Portrait, 1989)
On the Other Hand (Epic, 1990)
Amo Tu Cama Rica (1991?)
Rendezvous (Columbia, 1993)
One More Once (Columbia, 1994)
Two Much (1996)
Thru My Eyes (Columbia, 1997)
Spain (Verve, 1999)
Piano Concerto, Suite & Caribe (Decca, 2001)
Triangulo (Telarc, 2002)
Live at the Blue Note (Telarc, 2003)
Solo (Telarc, 2004)
Rhapsody in Blue (Telarc, 2006)
Spain Again (Emarcy, 2006)
Spirit of the Moment (Telarc, 2006)
Mano a Mano (Emarcy, 2011)
What’s Up? (Okeh, 2013)
Live in London (Redondo Music, 2015)
Spain Forever (Universal, 2016)


Artist Profiles: José Alberto “El Canario”

José Alberto “El Canario”

José Alberto “El Canario” is known as El Sonero del Pueblo (The people’s singer). Nicknamed after the trademark canary-like whistle with which he embellishes his improvisations, “El Canario” has an exceptional voice, with a unique style. He is also a master improviser.

José Alberto Justiniano was born December 22, 1958 in Villa Consuelo, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. El Canario’s family moved to Puerto Rico when he was just seven years old. In the enchanting island of Puerto Rico, he joined the Las Antillas Military Academy where he pursued his musical studies. His formidable performing abilities were a factor in opening doors for him.

A few years later, El Canario decided to take residence in New York City where he began to show the outstanding skills that make of him a star in tropical music. He became a distinguished figure in many popular orchestras of the time, earning profound reverence from the audience throughout the nation. The experience he accumulated made him a musical leader, and in 1983, he hired a well-known group of musicians and formed the José Alberto “El Canario” & Su Orquesta, a spectacular dance group in New York.

In 1987, Latin music visionary Ralph Mercado chose José Alberto to inaugurate the Tropical catalog of the RMM label. Celia Cruz chose him as her colleague on stage and for years they became a remarkable combination. Since then, he has traveled the five continents and today El Canario is known as a stellar artist of the Tropical rhythm genre. His successful recording career includes countless Gold and Platinum records.


Dance With Me (RMM, 1991)
Sueño Contigo (RMM, 1992)
Mis Amores (RMM, 1992)
De Pueblo y Con Clase (RMM, 1994)
On Time (RMM, 1996)
Back to the Mambo: Tribute to Machito (RMM, 1997)
Live from West Port (1999)
Herido (Ryko, 1999)
El Canario (Viva Discos International, 2001)
Diferente (Envidia, 2001)
Original (Los Canarios, 2011)
Intimamente Salsero Live (Los Canarios, 2012)
Romantico y Rumbero (Los Canarios, 2014)
No Quiero Llanto – Tributo a los Compadres, with Septeto Santiaguero (Los Canarios, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Joaquin Diaz

Joaquin Diaz – Photo by Angel Romero

As a young boy, Joaquín played every night at the biggest hotels in Santo Domingo. He began his musical career as a street musician in the streets of San Domingo, Dominican Republic. “I was playing my music in the streets of Santo Domingo when I was nine years old. I was the oldest of seven children and we were very poor,” Joaquín offers with a knowing smile. “Music was more than just a love for me. It was survival.”

At the age of 12, this Dominican “king of accordion” was playing for guests at a local hotel, and by the time he was 17, he was performing at the Olympic Games, played for the president of the Dominican Republic at his presidential home, won first prize at the highly competitive Merengue Competition of Santo Domingo and appeared each week on the Sabro Show, a favorite variety program on Dominican TV. He also toured with the Folk Ballet of the Dominican Republic.

Díaz has performed at numerous venues and festivals around the world “This music is in my blood. It is everything to me. It is my destiny,” says Joaquín Díaz.

Now residing in Montreal, Canada, he continues to delight audiences wherever he goes. Since his arrival in Canada, Díaz has put together a band that has demonstrated the musical heritage of the Dominican Republic. In 1998, he and his group of extremely talented musicians received a grant to produce their first full-length CD Merengue Más Merengue, which showcases Díaz’s stellar accordion playing.


Merengue Mas Merengue ‎(Magra Multi Média, 1998)
Merengue Alegre (Arhoolie, 2002)
Ola (Cinq Planètes, 2006)


Artist Profiles: Chichí Peralta

Chichí Peralta

Chichí Peralta is a talented musician from the Dominican Republic He is a master percussionist and brilliant at fusing tropical rhythms. In his recordings, Peralta combines diverse rhythms and styles like jazz, merengue, guaguancó and even Dominican bachata and vallenato.

The tall Caribbean percussionist was born July 9 of 1966 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His birth name is Pedro René Peralta, but everybody calls him Chichí and he likes to emphasize that the last i should be accented because Chichi plainly written doesn’t sound very good in Spanish.

His musical career began at the age of 4, when he built his first instrument, a tambora. Peralta’s main professional work was as percussionist of the renowned group 4-40, led by Juan Luis Guerra. For eight years, Chichí Peralta performed in front of thousand of people throughout the world.

His first solo CD, Pa’ Otro La’o, was released in 1997. Peralta was in charge of most of the production work. Without a doubt Chichí Peralta has proven to be one of the musicians and producers with a better sense of musical globalization, and on his second solo recording, De Vuelta al Barrio, he was able to perfect sounds, maturing, finding himself, evolving and fusing ‘son’ with jazz, merengue with guaguancó, pop music with African rhythms, bachata with Brazilian rhythms, plena with salsa, vallenato, Arabic rhythms with those of Africa and India.

On De Vuelta al Barrio, Chichí Peralta didn’t waste any time nor effort, spending inexhaustible hours of arduous work doing research, compiling and composing. All this led to a recording with the London Symphony at Abbey Road Studios, in Paris with the choirs of Luz Africa Light, with the special participation of Henri Dikongue, in United States to mix and in his own studio, Sterling Audio, in the Dominican Republic. The main vocals are by Cesar Olarte and Rene Geraldino.

When asked the meaning of Vuelta al Barrio, Chichí indicated: “It is a re-encounter with our roots, making reference to our place, to the place that we left, to our barrio (neighborhood), and without wanting to seem too local, how would the barrio of the Dominican Republic be, or Colombia’s, or Puerto Rico’s, it is rather the barrio of the world. To me, there is only one barrio that is divided by several languages and music has the purpose of uniting it, of intertwining it. Who in their own history in the barrio has not fallen in love?. Who hasn’t seen disappointment? A humorous history or those beautiful memories? The return to the barrio for me is something very emotional, it is a nostalgia of mine, very personal. To me it has been one of the places where I’ve had the best time.”


Pa’ Otro La’o (Caiman Music, 1997)
De Vuelta al Barrio (Caiman Music, 2000)
Más Que Suficiente (Universal Music Latino, 2005)
De Aquel La’o del Río (789 Music, 2009)
De Que Viene, Viene (789 Music, 2012)


Falling in Love at the Beach

Rafael & Energía Dominicana – Enamorarse en la playa

Rafael & Energía Dominicana – Enamorarse en la playa [“Falling in Love at the Beach”] (ARC Music EUCD2715, 2013)

Many people, especially those of the romantic persuasion who enjoy the creative arts, believe in love at first sight. These days, one can eavesdrop on friends describing first encounters with potential paramours met online and hear them summarize, “We spent half an hour at Java Jive, and the spark just wasn’t there.” Cats, on the other hand, prolific beasts reputed to have nine lives, are more prudent; they do not believe in love at first sight. Two feline housemates may gambol and groom and sleep curled up together once they become acquainted, but the first interaction is a quick sniff and a spark.

For many people using online dating services, all housecats and at least this one listener to Rafael & Energía Dominicana’s “Enamorarse en la playa” release, “the spark just wasn’t there,” at first meeting.

This is probably because merengue itself is so strident and exuberant that it all initially sounds the same; everything’s on ten. On second and ongoing listens, though, this proves to not be just another merengue release at all. There is huge comfort with modern instruments and studio technique. The studio facility and staff are equal partners with the players here on a creative, passionate, gifted team.

This release develops, listen after listen, like a flower blooming. One looks forward to the next needle drop, not because it’s merengue night at a club, but because it sounds so good. Balance between instruments and sections, naturalness of vocals, judicious ring off from guitars, capture of the elusive horn solo from amidst the ever-steroidal salsa horn section … every concern that might go into a listener’s first impression is addressed and dealt with. It’s a record that makes one seek better speakers or tunable headphones to provide the sound a better frame.

“Enamorarse en la playa (Falling in Love at the Beach)” is not, at least to this listener, a love at first hearing release. It is, however, a long-term relationship.

Buy Enamorarse en la playa


Artist Profiles: Fellé Vega

Fellé Vega

Fellé Vega, is a renowned Dominican artist; Dominican percussionist native of Santiago De Los Caballeros who defines himself as an Imaginary Folklorist.

Percussionist, composer, inventor, instrument designer, who over the course of his multi-faceted 25-year career has shared the national and international stage with many notable artists, has participated in numerous jazz festivals around the world and led several musical groups, has served as instructor and lecturer at percussion workshops in addition to being a composer and designer of musical instruments.

This craftsman of rhythms and varied instruments exhibits in his music a strong ethnic fusion that is the result of the African, Spanish and Taino influence ever-present in the Caribbean.

Devoted to finding the sound of life, Fellé has distinguished himself by his experimentation with recyclable materials and everyday objects that have percussive possibilities, such as pails, lids and pots, which he then turns into musical instruments. His use of such materials to create music has earned him on many occasions the title of musical wizard from Dominican music critics.

Fellé currently heads the Monday’s concert series Monday’s Jazz every Monday in Bar Code, is the musical director of the jazz and world music group Orquesta de las Danzas Mezcladas, and member of the most famous percussion quintet in the country Cuero, Madera y Metal, as well as the music coordinator of the Palafitos Jazz Festival in Moca.

He is the creator and director of motivational percussion workshops offered at public and private schools called Tocando la Vida, (playing the life) and conducts an innovator idea for workshops based on percussion dynamics for corporate human resources department called SonTeam.

Fellé designs and manufactures percussion instruments under his own trademark, Tokit, for which he uses wood and recyclable materials. The percussion instruments called Boombaquin (percussion box), Tata, Gargaritas, Gayumba, Cuadrangarang, and Tambiro are some of his original creations.

At the moment, he is pointing all his energies in commercialize internationally the Boombakini. This instrument was designed by Fellé in the early 1990s and has being played by several Dominican and international musicians around the world. This is the first Dominican instrument that has been patented, something that makes Fellé very proud.

Retreta para el alma, by Felle Vega and La Orquesta de las Danzas Mezcladas (2005)


Dominican Merengue Inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

merengue musicians - Photo courtesy of Ministerio de Cultura de República Dominicana
merengue musicians – Photo courtesy of Ministerio de Cultura de República Dominicana

Today, November 30, 2016, UNESCO announced that Dominican merengue music and dance was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The merengue is considered part of the national identity of the Dominican Republic. It is present in people’s daily lives – from their education to social gatherings and celebrations, and even political campaigning.

In 2005, merengue was recognized by presidential decree with November 26 declared National Merengue Day. Merengue festivals are held in cities in the Dominican Republic like Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata every year.

Danced in couples, flirtatious gestures are used as participants move in circles to the rhythm of music played on instruments such as the accordion, drum and saxophone. It is a dance that is usually introduced to learners at an early age.

Knowledge and skills on the practice are transmitted through observation, participation and imitation. The merengue attracts people of different social classes, which helps to promote respect and coexistence among individuals, groups and communities.

The north of the country is considered to be the cradle of merengue with the area of influence extending to Puerto Rico, the United States of America and the Caribbean region.

The merengue is also popular in other Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Colombia where variations have emerged, and countries in Central America.