Merengue has been heard in New York since the 1930s, when Eduardo Brito became the first to sing the Dominican national music there before going on to tour Spain. Salcedo-born, Juilliard-educated Rafael Petitón Guzmán formed the first Dominican-led band in the city with his Orquesta Lira Dominicana, which played in all the popular ballrooms in the 1930s and 1940s, while at the same time Angel Viloria played popular tunes on accordion with his “conjunto típico cibaeño” for Big Apple fans. However, it wasn’t until the massive migration of Dominicans in the 1960s and 1970s that the music reached a mass audience. In 1967, Joseíto Mateo, Alberto Beltrán, and Primitivo Santos took merengue to Madison Square Garden for the first time. Later, New York-based groups like La Gran Manzana and Milly, Jocelyn y los Vecinos, a group unusual for being fronted by women, gained a following in the diaspora as well as back on the island.
By the 1980s merengue was so big it was even beating out salsa on the airwaves. That decade was also notable for a boom in all-female orquestas, and Las Chicas del Can became particularly popular. Since then, musicians like Juan Luis Guerra, trained at Boston’s Berklee school, and former rocker Luis Díaz have brought merengue even further abroad, truly internationalizing the music. Guerra collaborated with African guitarists, experimented with indigenous Caribbean sounds, and explored Dominican roots music with típico accordionist Francisco Ulloa, while Díaz (an innovator since his work with 1970s folklore group Convite) fused merengue, rock, merengue típico, and bachata in his productions.
In the 21st century, orquesta musicians began to voice concern that their style would be eclipsed in popularity by bachata and merengue típico. Perhaps for this reason, some pop merengue singers have gone to extreme lengths to attract attention, such as Tulile and Toño Rosario’s excursions into women’s wear. But even without such antics, recordings by groups like Los Toros Band, Rubby Pérez, Alex Bueno, Sergio Vargas, and the ever-popular Los Hermanos Rosario continue to sell well. Pop merengue also has a remarkably strong following on the neighboring island of Puerto Rico, which has produced its own stars, like Olga Tañón and Elvis Crespo.
In more urban settings, merengue is played with all manner of instrumentation, but the tambora and the güira are signatures. Today, merengue de orquesta is most popular. It uses a large horn section with paired saxophones, piano, timbales, hi-hat, backup singers, and conga, in addition to tambora, güira, and bass. In modern merengue típico a saxophone is an addition to the accordion, along with electric bass guitar. A proof of the great adaptability of the music can be found in the Dominican National Symphony’s presentation in 2003 of a concert series entitled “Symphonic Merengue”, in which the Symphonic Orchestra consisting of woodwinds, brass, strings, and the like played popular tunes.Tiraera A Omega ”El Fuerte”, El Sujeto, Tito Swing, … Tulile – Lo Mangue (Tiraera A Omega ”El Fuerte”, El Sujeto, Tito Swing, .