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Merengue—the quintessential Dominican dance music—has a long and complex history, both on the island and in the large immigrant community in New York City. In this ambitious work, Paul Austerlitz unravels the African and Iberian roots of merengue and traces its growth under dictator Rafael Trujillo and its renewed popularity as an international music.
Using extensive interviews as well as written commentaries, Austerlitz examines the historical and contemporary contexts in which merengue is performed and danced, its symbolic significance, its social functions, and its musical and choreographic structures. He tells the tale of merengue's political functions, and of its class and racial significance. He not only explores the various ethnic origins of this Ibero-African art form, but points out how some Dominicans have tried to deny its African roots.
In today's global society, mass culture often marks ethnic identity. Found throughout Dominican society, both at home and abroad, merengue is the prime marker of Dominican identity. By telling the story of this dance music, the author captures the meaning of mass and folk expression in contemporary ethnicity as well as the relationship between regional, national, and migrant culture and between rural/regional and urban/mass culture. Austerlitz also traces the impact of migration and global culture on the native music, itself already a vibrant intermixture of home-grown merengue forms.
From rural folk idiom to transnational mass music, merengue has had a long and colorful career. Its well-deserved popularity will make this book a must read for anyone interested in contemporary music; its complex history will make the book equally indispensable to anyone interested in cultural studies.
Temple University Press
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Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.
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