La Brega

3. “Suavemente” — The Merengue War

At the end of the 1990s merengue ruled supreme on the radio and television in Puerto Rico. Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” is perhaps the most famous example — a bonafide hit that helped popularize the genre all over the world.

But how did this Puerto Rican hit become the most recognizable merengue song in a genre pioneered by Dominican musicians?

The road to merengue’s ubiquity in Puerto Rico was a long and complicated one. It coincides with the rise of Dominican migration to Puerto Rico and involves a cultural battle fought in nightclubs, “fiestas patronales,” and high school proms around the archipelago. Tensions around immigration and race that developed during that time remain today. Reporter Ezequiel Rodríguez Andino tells the story of merengue’s rise in Puerto Rico, the ripple effects of this “musical war,” and what it all tells us about the relationship between Puerto Rico and the people from its sister-island: the Dominican Republic.

Learn more about the voices in this episode:

Alberto “Ringo” Martinez, director and co-founder of Patrulla 15

• Richie Viera, producer and owner of Viera Discos

Edgar Nevarez, trumpet player and arranger

Andres "Velcro" Ramos, DJ, producer, and MC

• Watch Glorimarie Peña Alicea’s presentation “Yolas, memorias y transgresiones: La mujer y la migración indocumentada dominicana a Puerto Rico”

Our cover of “No Tienes Corazón” by Patrulla 15 is by the artists DJ Velcro and Mireya Ramos (out this March).

Listen to our Spotify playlist, featuring music from this episode – and this season. We’ll keep adding to it each week as new episodes come out.

Special thanks this week to Marisol Andino, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, Andy Lanset, Chiquita Brujita, Lia Camille Crockett, Amanda Alcántara, Fernanda Echávarri, Emanuel Dufrasne, Elmer Gonzalez, Francisco Perez, Andres “Cucho” Perez Camacho, Tatiana Díaz Ramos, Sujei Lugo Vazquez and Otoniel Nicolas. Additional music in this episode from Yasser Tejeda. Fact checking this season is by Istra Pacheco and Maria Soledad.