Luis Kalaff y Sus Alegres Dominicanos – Arriba! Santo Domingo (1970)
Luis Kalaff was one of the godfathers of merengue in the Dominican Republic. His sound took elements of the rural, accordion-based merengue típico and combined it with the style forged by the saxophone-led, big band merengue that came into style during the years of its efflorescence under dictator Rafael Trujillo, who essentially made the style into the semi-official national genre by imposing his taste on the country’s elites (he was from the Cibao region where merengue got its start).
Paradoxically, Trujillo really did nothing to promote a national music industry at the same time he was promoting merengue. Relatively little got recorded during that time period, and most or all of that happened outside the D.R., chiefly in New York City. That changed after he died. So did other things: the merengue songs praising Trujillo, that were de facto requirements at radio stations or in neighborhood bars, were in short order relegated to the dustbin of history after he was assassinated. But merengue itself stuck around, and eventually would give salsa a run for its money in the late 70s and 80s as one of the dominant international styles of Latin music.
Apart from merengue, this Luis Kalaff album also features other styles popular in Latin America: the bolero, of course, but also several cumbias, and the title track is a variation on the Puerto Rican plena.
Oh, there was also a style known as méringue popular in Haiti, right next door.
I just mentioned a political assassination in passing, as if it were a casual thing. The American CIA, who were typically busy propping up right wing dictators or orchestrating their coups after World World II, had come to regard Trujillo as a liability in the ongoing Cold War, and were heavily implicated in his death. Last week an unpopular president was assassinated in Haiti, which you may have noticed shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Several of the Colombian “security contractors” being charged with the killing even did some tourism in the D.R., posting normal touristy pics of themselves chilling with a statue of another ruthless killer, Christopher Colombus, before sneaking across the border into Haiti to “arrest” the president. It is all pretty murky and suspicious, but the current U.S. president has been making it a point to go around saying how important it is for countries to abide by international norms and not do things like meddle in other nations’ affairs, attempt to influence elections, hack their infrastructure, etc, so I have every confidence that the CIA had nothing at all to do with any of this. /sarcasm
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