While vacationing in the Dominican Republic over MLK weekend, I had one of those unique exchanges in which I attempt to purchase a CD of unknown provenance in the vain hopes I will stumble upon some weird hybrid music from the global postmodern. Typically these exchanges are conducted with no more than 70% comprehension by either party, terms such as “hip hop” and “bass” are bandied about, and I get some watered down bhangra or generic reggae for my troubles. This time I lucked out with Super Mambo Supremo 2008, an unlabeled CD-R with an inkjet printout of Heidi Klum next to the Domincan flag’s coat of arms, containing 19 tracks of the sound burning up the Dominican streets — mambo, also known as merengue de calle.
As is typical of such genres, names are often cribbed inappropriately from elsewhere, as the music sounds very little like mambo, at least according to my limited understanding, although “street merengue” does a much better job. The tracks are stripped-down merengue rhythms (most sound right off a Casio’s “Latin” presets), with high tempos, dirty rapped lyrics, and an occasional reggaeton rhythm thrown in for good measure. Also typical for these genres (reggaeton, bachata, cumbia, and funk carioca have similar trajectories), the older and more elevated classes of Dominican society scorned this music until popular pressure became insurmountable; now mambo artists play rallies for major presidential candidates.
Omega is the mamboista tan grande, with a distinctive gravelly voice very reminiscent of Tego Calderon. Apparently he’s so successful he can afford an entire merengue backing band, although you’d never know it from the sound. Have this many musicians ever made a sound so minimal?
Music videos (with typical girls+jewels+cars+money hip-hop imagery — par for the course) are rather the exception — I had far more luck on YouTube finding live performances on low-budget TV shows. One of the biggest hits of the genre is Galgo Mambo’s “El Viajero,” which means “the traveller” — I believe a reference to how Galgo gets around, not, unfortunately, to the rampant sex tourism in the DR:
Love that 80s soft rock intro, a staple of the Dominican radio. Raphael, our taxi driver, preferred it to anything else.
And it’s not exclusively a boy’s club, although the ladies of Unidad Key certainly need to work on their stage presence:
Mambo’s even got its preferred producer/remixer, DJ Ricky, who produced the track “No Era Por Ahi” on Tego’s latest album, El Abayarde Contra Ataca.
Sonically, mambo reminds me more of the tinny hyperrhythmic sound of Angolan kuduro than Caribbean hip hop styles, although there aren’t any links that I know of, other than Iberian-colonialism-meets-black-diaspora:
And now for links!
Blog (en espanol) about merengue in La Republica Dominicana: Merengue Mundo
Thread on a Dominican messageboard about merengue de calle (en ingles!): DR1 Forums
And as a special added gift, the entire contents of Super Mambo Supremo 2008.
Here’s the tracklisting, now that I’ve actually bothered to type it all in:
- Tulile – Ta Buena
- Omega – Si No Me Amas
- DJ Lexxon – Dale Maraka (this is a remix of a popular Dominican dance song with some Dem Bow)
- La Chelcha – Bebe Mas
- Galgo Mambo – El Viajero
- El Ferry – Te Tienen Pena
- Rimambo – La Voz Que Te Quilla
- Kewdy – El Bram Bram
- La Super Banda – Quedata Loco
- Silvio Mora – Los Camarones
- Lebreke – Si Tu Quieres Mangamos
- Conde Marc Lauri – Demagocia Con Mi Coro
- DJ Kennedy – Manga Ahy
- Jay Pallano – El Bollo
- Unidad Key – Tumba Eso
- The Four One – Sofia
- La Grena Con Mambo – La Maicena
- Mala Fe – Como La Mochila
- Tamarindo – Para El Violento
Check the next post for another mambolicious mix.