During my recent trip to Puerto Rico my girl friend was just getting over the flu. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I felt the early signs of a sore throat and congestion in my ears creeping in on me. That evening I went to the nearest bar and asked for the best rum they had. I was poured a very healthy glass of Trigo Reserva Aneja (a 12 year old aged rum). I’m no expert on rums, but that glass was super smooth and I made sure to take my time with it as it’s borinquen embrace coated my throat and ran down my chest working it’s magic. By the time I was walking back to my hotel room my sore throat and congestion were completely gone! And on that walk back, like the rum, Johnny Ventura‘s blazing rendition of El Ron Es Mi Medicina began to run through me and onto my lips.
So what we have here is one Aramis Camilo y La Organizacion Secreta’s classic albums from the 80s. They seemed to have borrowed Willie Colon’s persona idea of being mobsters (on the back cover you’ll notice the guy in the car is actually holding a gun). By no means is this gangster merengue, in fact Aramis’s music embodies so much of what I love about merengue from this period. Unlike long self indulgent salsa intros, this music kicks into gear right from the start and packs more energy per note. This song El Motor was one of Aramis’s biggest hits. To be honest I preferred some of the other songs on the record UNTIL I saw this video of it performed live back on DR’s legendary TV show Medio Dia. I’ve probably watched this video at least a 100 times. Time to get on su motor and ride. More merengue videos to come. Enjoy!
As always, big shout-out to William—the only person at our parties that knows every merengue song we play.
The first merengue CD I ever bought was by Juan Luis Guerra, thanks to my fellow student, known fondly as Copete, who taught me how to dance it when I arrived at college. Little did I know that ten years later I would play “A pedir su mano” (Translation: “To ask for her hand”) during my wedding. It was too appropriate – we couldn’t pass it up.
(The video includes some bad 80s effects and some brilliant footage of the Dominican Republic. I’d never seen it till now.)
Also at college, I was invited to learn and perform a dance to Soukous, thanks to Janet and Kirimania. When people who hadn’t heard it before asked me to describe what Soukous sounded like, I would tell them it was “how you’d imagine Merengue sounded before it crossed the Atlantic”. At the time I didn’t realize that in fact, it really had.
This was affirmed again many years later, when we picked up this little treasure:
And to our surprise, we found this song, Dédé Priscilla, by Lea Lignanzi – the original version of “A pedir su mano”. Since then we’ve tracked down a few other tracks by Juan Luis Guerra that are adaptations of soukous. Maybe I’ll dig those up for you sometime.
Dede Priscilla by Lea Lignanzi
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You can’t deny this cover. Hella traviesas! That look in their eyes says one date with them and you’re in for a couple fights, a wrecked car, getting thrown out of clubs, and a horrible hang over. But then it’s all worth it cuz you danced to music like this.
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A Quien No Le Dan by Las Chicas Del Pais
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In the big wide world of Latin American music it’s not uncommon for big time artists who have hit the heights of their genre to attempt a hybrid song where they blend their style of music with another in order to create something brand new and branch out a bit. Usually these attempts are the songs that get skipped over as they are too forced and just end up confusing the dance floor, but here we have an exciting exception by El Mayimbe, aka Fernandito Villalona. Cumbia Merenguera is actually miles ahead of everything else on this record and has become one my favorites of the original El Mayimbe. Enjoy.
Cumbia Merenguera by Fernandito Villalona
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Time to hop over to Santo Domingo to experience carnaval with your host Fernandito Villalona. This video may be a bit staged (stopping for some tamarindo on his way to the concert), but have no doubt El Mayimbe was the king of the Dominican Republic in the 80s. Despite the early production quality, this old school music video does exactly what it’s supposed to—has us wishing we were there dancing in the streets with them. Enjoy! -Posoule