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Dominican Republic Music - Afro-Dominicano

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Dominican Republic is mainly known for it's Merengue and Bachata music yet there are other music forms that were played on the island of Hispaniola way before the music that most relate to Dominican Republic. This music came here with the slaves and is music of the entire island, passed down for over 500 years. Most Dominicans do not recognize this music as their own. They consider it as more Haitian because of its African origins. Many have tried to disassociate themselves from their African-Slave background. Now it seems more Dominicans are starting to pay attention to these forms of music and rediscovering it.

Many villages do still practice these forms of music including Villa Mella (known for its unique Congos, Salsa, and Son Dancers), La Romana, Barahona, San Pedro de Macorís, San Francisco, Samaná, y Villa Altagracia.  Bateys (villages in the sugar cane fields) are famous for their Gaga music, Nigua and Haina still have strong Afro influences.

Today, more than ever, the Dominican people are starting to embrace their African roots. Discovering more of their culture, heritage and folk roots.

Música de Gagá/ Gaga Music traditionally comes from the festival of the same name. This is what I have found out about this festival and the music. I wish I understood more of what this festival entails to share here. As I find more information on this music and festival I will share. Janette

The festival of Gagá (gagá in Creole means idiot) is a celebration of dance and music. This festival, since it is celebrated in the Spring at the beginning of lent and ending on Good Friday, is a festival based on reincarnation. It is to commemorate the fertilization of the earth/ tierra and is a vibrant spring celebration. With the hope that the forces or mysteries/ misterios will begin again and life will emerge from the fields and things dead. Among the things celebrated in this ritual are sacrifice, protection, baptism, blessing and purification. There is a complex hierarchy involved in these rituals. There is a cleansing and a giving of ones self for a designated time so they can be involved it the dancing and the inner circle activities.

Gagá has been practiced in Dominican Republic for a long time. Many generations back the Haitians, who call their festival Ra-Rá, brought it to Dominican side of the island when they came to work in the sugar cane fields, known as bateyes, with their families. The music is said to have originated from the celebration of vudú. Now, since it has been practiced by the Dominican people, it has become part of their culture and has since become known as Dominican Gagá.

The celebrations are held throughout the Bateyes/ Sugar Cane Fields in San Pedro de Macorís. Preparation for the festivities starts the day before in each small town. The spot where the music will be performed, called Enramadas, is decorated by the ladies. Early the next day everyone dresses in vibrant colors. The women, called the brides, dress in very elaborate skirts made out of multi colored pieces of cloth. The men tie long, colorful pieces of cloth around their waists and wear hats of many vivid colors.

The Godparents/ Padrinos of the festival are the ones that pay for the festivities. Both the men and women dresses in their brightly colored outfits, dance in front of the chosen padrinos home. Led by the Folk singer/ Duluc they dance in circles along with a person twirling two weighted batons twirling them in ceremonial gestures. In the absence of this twirler there are machetes and flags juggled. When the dance ends the godmother or father comes out and joins in the dance. They place a donation in the red satin covered wooden box of money, rum, food or whatever other goods they want to donate.

These traveling bands, each led by a group of musicians, use a very unique set of instruments many of which originated in Africa. Long bamboo tubes, about 4 feet long, with leather mouthpieces fixed over one end require tremendous wind to blow. These produce haunting bass notes. There is a sort of trumpet/ trompeta type instrument called a tua-tuá. They are made our of tin and formed in a horn shape. This instrument can only play one tone. Yet a good player can make a variation of tones come from this simple yet symphonic sounding instrument. Drums are used. Also used for the music is the traditional metal maraca called cha-chá. A traditional African stringed instrument called the Gayumba. Whistles are also used as signals to the musicians and to tell the dancing order.

Each small town has its own festival. When the traveling musicians finish they meet, along with all the people that have joined them, in the nearest sugar cane field. Then the band or people travel on to meet up with the next group. This traveling party does this for 3 days; with each town the group gets larger and larger. It is a great party of singing, dancing and enjoying the fellowship or your neighbors.

Música Congos del Espíritu Santo / Congo Music of the Holy Spirit can be heard in the village of Villa Mella. This music is highly African is origin and associated with the Afro-Christian sect. It is basically tambores/ drum music. The drums are all different sizes from very large to the smallest drum known as Alcahuete. Other instruments used are the maracas y canoas or sticks. This music has maintained its original form and is still sung in call and response, one person sings out a line and all others reply in song also.

Cantos de Hacha/ Songs of the Ax  and Cantos de Siembra/ Songs of Sowing. These are another type of call and response type songs. Traditionally sung while working where one sings a line and the response is one word, usually a word of agreement. Usually sung between men and women. This is much the same as the slave music from the slave days in the South of United States while they were picking cotton in the fields. The roots of this style of music are pure African.
ILU AYE (Literally, "The Drum of the World" in Yoruba) was founded in 2004, to celebrate the connections between the peoples and cultures of the African Diaspora. Bringing together the next generation of Afro-Puerto Rican, -Dominican, and -Cuban percussionists and singers, ILU AYE is dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich cultural legacy of Africa in the Americas and the Caribbean, through performance, educational workshops, and community-centered gatherings where the rhythms of the African Caribbean reign. Trained by master musicians from all three islands, and versed in sacred and popular rhythms such as bata, guiro, rumba (Cuba); bomba and plena (Puerto Rico); and palos, salves, and kongos (Dominican Republic), ILU AYE interprets traditional songs and reinvigorates the genres with original compositions by renowned akpwon, Osvaldo "Bembe" Lora.

This video is very interesting to watch. Enjoy!
Boni Raposo y La 21 Division   This Afro-Dominican folkloric group uses painted instruments, bold costumes and Spanish lyrics to teach and demonstrate the African-influenced music of the Dominican Republic. Under the direction of Boni Raposo, audiences learn about rhythms known as Palos and Salves, Gaga and Sancocho, and are introduced to instruments like panderos, guira, maracas, and lambi. Children and adults alike delight in the call and response style of singing and storytelling presented by the group.

Pa'Lo Monte A group that performs the traditional music of Dominican Republic and Haiti. Playing Palo, Salves, Gaga, Congo, and Sarandunga, the music of Vodoun. They want to keep the sounds of Africa alive. Their goal is to save and make known the African and Indigenous traditions of Dominicans and Haitians and to let them have more respect and knowledge of their traditions and ancestry. They perform, hold workshops and lectures. In this way they are trying to bring unity to the Dominican and Haitian communities alike. They are part of the large movement to create balance and right the wrongs of the past and the present.
     Through the music, Pa’ Lo Monte (a term which makes reference to a syncretic religion in and of itself (popular) Catholicism and spiritism), attempts to interpret that philosophy, which he believes binds our universe – both, the physical, as well as our social constructs.It seems that Pa’lo Monte is a cultural political party, but spiritual first. They believe that without God, there is nothing.
     Osvaldo D. Sanchez is the Founder and Director. Percussionist, musician, composer, dancer and teacher of Afro-Dominican and Haitian folk music, dance and culture. Born in Dominican Republic and a world renowned musician and lecturer. Working to preserve the cultures and traditions of the African and Indigenous peoples of Dominican Republic and Haiti.

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