In the 1930s, infamous Dominican dictator Rafael Truillo ordered the burning of the country’s palos drums, hoping to erase the powerful vestiges of African culture in the Dominican Republic. Luckily for us, the breakneck, trance-inducing sound of palos still reverberates at Afro-syncretic religious parties across the Caribbean nation almost a century later. This week, Afropop revisits the home of styles such as merengue and bachata, but this time we’ll be looking towards the most deeply African side of Dominican music—little known outside of the island. Afro-Dominican music is a secret treasure, filled with virtuosic drumming styles, heart-stopping grooves, and mystic dance parties. We’ll listen to traditional genres like palos, salve, and gaga, a uniquely Dominican take on rara music from neighboring Haiti. Throughout, we’ll be looking at artists who have drawn on Afro-Dominican styles to make infectious pop music, from wizened veterans of the folklore movement such as Luis Dias, to a host of hip young bands who use Afro-inspired rock, reggae and hip-hop to redefine what it means to be Dominican. We’ll also check out the Afro-Dominican scene in New York City—home to more than a half-million Dominicans—where we’ll find a Dominican gaga group in Brooklyn that is mending cultural fences at a weekly Haitian celebration.
Produced by Marlon Bishop.
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