The sound of the Caribbean would not be the same without the uplifting dance beat of the Merengue. Merengue is a Dominican dance that may have originally developed in Puerto Rico, but with conflicting claims of its origin and, historians are unsure of which Caribbean nation can truly claim the development of the Merengue. However, the origin of this unique dance and rhythm is less important than its ability to get people up and dancing.
Merengue music gets its unique sound from the combination of several instruments including congas, guiras, accordions and especially Tambora drums. Tambora drums are large, two-headed drums that are played with the hands, sticks or a combination of both. This drum provides the driving rhythm of Merengue music, settling strongly into the background with its clear, deep tones. Tambora drums are thought to have originated similarly to Cajon drums; slaves brought to Caribbean and Latin American countries repurposed ordinary objects into drums. In the case of Tambora drums, it is thought that rum barrels were used to create these drums, adding an extra level of fun and interest to these percussion instruments. Using goat skins and ropes made from grass, each head of the drum was attached to the shell, ultimately providing a means of celebration, communication and music for the combined cultures of Africa, Europe Latin America and the Caribbean inhabiting the Dominican Republic.
Merengue music has a syncopated, “call and response” feel to it that is credited to the Tambora drum and accompanying instruments like the accordion. Some Merengue enthusiasts also include the marimba or saxophone in the overall musical experience of the Merengue and its melodic qualities.
Tambora drums are a unique and historical part of the music of the Caribbean and Merengue music. These drums hold the joy and struggle of unique cultures the combined together and created a dynamic blend of African and Caribbean sound. A true celebratory genre of music, the history of Merengue music is rivaled only by the popularity of its musical spin-off, Salsa.