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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America


By Bruce Carnevale

Merengue Alegre

Based in Montreal, but originally from the Dominican Republic, accordionist and singer Joaquín Díaz plays fast. Real fast. For those familiar with merengue, this won’t surprise, but if more popular recordings—like the nice Rough Guide sampler—have colored your contact, it may. Díaz plays a stripped-down style, but “stripped down” refers to what has happened to merengue, i.e., no amplified guitars, bass or synthesizers, but rather accordion, bass, tambora, congas and güira (a scored metal cylinder rubbed with a metal stick). Díaz’s perico ripiao style clearly wears its rural roots on its sleeves. Díaz, however, doesn’t just play fast. In the speed, a peacefulness resides. While one cannot relax to this record, the quickness never tires. There’s none of the jolly galloping rhythms, but a sweaty, gutsy drive, like in “Autentico Merengue” or the title cut, expressing a pure, simple happiness. His “Bachata Sentimental” does what good merengue does, it gets your body moving. In world beat, cultural mixes lead traditions to change. This record reveals that the older forms, themselves a product of mixture, have an equal footing, even if they have become marginalized.