merengue típico
New York City

New York-based sensations Afro Dominicano call their style a “sancocho musical,” drawing a comparison to the hearty stew beloved across the Caribbean. Much more than a melting pot, Afro Dominicano’s flavorful music marries a rich base of traditional merengue típico with ingredients from the soundscape of New York City where, as founder Adrian Brito says, you could be listening to punk on your headphones and it would layer with the sounds of merengue from the bodega.

Afro Dominicano’s sound is rooted in merengue, the vibrant dance music of the Dominican Republic. The style emerged in the mid-19th century as a social dance among the upper classes, but quickly gained popularity with the poor and disenfranchised. Although Dictator Rafael Trujillo tried unsuccessfully to stifle the music’s anti-establishment messages in the mid-20th century, his promotion of merengue as a symbol of Dominican culture survived his reign and now unites Dominicans worldwide.

Bandleader Adriano Brito was born and raised in New York, where Dominican music was a family legacy: his dad’s eight siblings were all singers or string players—one uncle played piano in one of the DR’s most popular orquestas. Adriano learned guitar and piano from them but then one day, at age 20, he asked to play the accordion that hung in a Brooklyn barbershop; the accordion’s sound, which is central to traditional merengue típico, came so easily to Brito that his barber gifted him the instrument. “The instrument chose me,” Brito says now. 

In 2018, Brito returned from an extended stay in the DR determined to form a merengue band that would capture the vibrant sensibility of his hometown. Afro Dominicano’s lineup includes cousins Rafael Rodríguez (vocals and guira) and Jose Baez (tambora and bongos); hailing from DR’s northern Cibao region that birthed merengue, they play the traditional instruments that embody the genre’s Taino and African legacies. They’re joined by Marco Mento on drums, vocalist Kelvin Ventura on second guitar, vocalist Jose “Cito” Cardenas on bass, and lead guitarist and producer Franky Payne, who says that regardless of how they came to merengue, “we always meet in the middle, we speak the language which is music.”

Today Afro Dominicano electrifies audiences across the US and DR, but their heart is in New York, where they were recently voted one of the best bands in the MTA’s competitive and beloved “Music Under New York” official subway performer program.

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