Merengue is a traditional Caribbean music and dance that emerged in the Dominican Republic early in the 20th century. With a variety of influences - including European, African and Creole - merengue is unique style characterized by its 2/4-time and complex 2-step dance. The traditional instrumentation of acoustic guitar and marimbula (a Caribbean box lamellophone) has evolved over time to include the accordion, the tambora (a two-headed drum), the guira (a metal scraper similar to the washboard), bass, piano and even saxophone.
In the 1930s band director Rafael Trujillo created the first modern merengue orchestra, replacing many of the “rural” instruments and playing exclusively for the elite and middle class. Trujillo remained the leader of the merengue movement until his retirement in 1961. He also established this modern merengue as the national music of the Dominican Republic.
In the U.S., merengue was popularized by Angel Viloria and his band Conjunto Tipico Cibaeno in the 1950s. Later, in the '60s, Johnny Ventura and Wilfrido Vargas, among others, created an even more stylized merengue and in the '80s and '90s Juan Luis Guerra incorporated modern pop and jazz sounds to further develop the genre.
The 1980s proved to be the time of flourish for the genre with international hits and considerable radio play. Although best known as a Dominican style, other forms of merengue emerged out of Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti in the 20th century. Today, merengue remains popular in all of Latin America and the Caribbean with its many divergent styles and interpretations emerging.