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Merengue began in the poorest corners of the Dominican Republic.

During its conception, it was often played by exclusively string instruments, lacking the characteristic percussion provided by the tambora in more modern versions.

The rhythm is quick, it encourages you to move your body with it, to desperately fly on your feet to match with it.

It carries with it a feeling. You can feel it in the sharp bursts of song that are peppered between the drawn-out trills of saxophone, the energetic snippets of the guira that compliment the melodic, sweet sounds of the marimba.

It’s the kind of music that’s recognizable instantly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a slower, emotional ballad to a lover, a call and response duet, wryly crooned between friends, or an energetic melody painting pictures of parties with countless women and lust in the air, it’s all unmistakably merengue.

Sometimes, the lyrics appear to be completely nonsensical. Merengue isn’t supposed to make sense in your mind. The music makes sense in your heart, it understands what’s underneath your skin, and compels your muscles to carry its message. You can feel the joy, the love, the lust, the melancholy in the deepest part of yourself, your body thrums with it all, yet the words to describe it never pass your lips.

They don’t need to.

The true magic is in the perfect combination of every single element. It’s possible to use every instrument, every beat, the most beautiful voices, and not find merengue in any of them.

Because it’s not only the music. It’s the familiar blanket of comfort it provides, the intimacy of the dance, hips swaying and feet stomping, twirling and twisting to meet your partner and carry them with you as your body screams with the ecstasy of the moment. It’s the sweat that drips down your brow as the song ends and you take a moment to breathe, to take in the sights and the smells around you.

It’s the spark in the pit of your stomach as the warble of the saxophone draws you into the next song.

Merengue is not music, nor dance.

Merengue is the joy of your people, the heartbreak, the desire, the frustration.

Merengue is your people’s song.

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