Throughout the 90s, merenhouse swept Latin American and Latino spaces. Artists like Ilegales, Lisa M, Sandy & Papo, and Fransheska incorporated merengue instrumentation (like tambora and güira), and the genre’s rhythmic patterns into 4/4 house beats. Their Spanglish rapping, combined with driving merengue rhythms, created an irresistible sound made up of various Afro-diasporic influences. And there was no act that transcended the genre more other than the originators, Proyecto Uno.
Formed in 1989 by Nelson Zapata and Ricky Echevarría – two Dominican youngsters living in New York City – Proyecto Uno left their indelible print on Latin American music history with hit singles like “Está Pega’o,” “Brinca,” “Another Night,” “Latinos,” and of course, the timeless merengue hip-hop anthem, “El Tiburón.”
In a self-penned essay, Zapata explained Proyecto Uno’s influential sound was the result of sampling experiments at the legendary Quad Recording Studios with Pavel de Jesús, one of the band’s first producers, who cut his teeth working with two of house music’s originators: Frankie Knuckles and David Morales.
And if ever there was a place for merenhouse to blossom, it was certainly New York. In a city with a large Dominican immigrant community interacting with Black American culture, it was only a matter of time before someone connected the dots between the sounds of their home country, and the ones found in their new home.
Through sampling, referencing, and covering the contemporary Black American music that surrounded and inspired them, Proyecto Uno reimagined the merengue that served as a lifeline to their home country.
We compiled a list of five Proyecto Uno songs that show how the longstanding merenhouse outfit reinterpreted Black American music. Warning: these songs may induce involuntary dancing. Don’t resist.
“El Tiburón” (samples Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real” and Joe Bataan’s “Rap-O Clap-O”)
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Latinx person who doesn’t go off when they hear the horn-laden, two-bar intro sampled from “Got to Be Real.” This infectious anthem is Proyecto Uno’s biggest, most recognizable hit, and besides sampling Cheryl Lynn’s disco classic, it features elements from “Rap-O Clap-O,” by beloved musician Joe Bataan.
“Nu Nu” (samples Lidell Townsell’s “Nu Nu Club Mix”)
Proyecto Uno didn’t just add tamboras to house music; they understood and respected the genre, and it showed early in their career with this flavorful cover of Chicago singer/producer Lidell Townsell’s “Nu Nu.” Unfortunately, its lyrics about an inappropriate attraction towards a minor don’t exactly hold up well.
“Todo El Mundo” (samples Black Box’s “Everybody Everybody”)
We know what you’re probably thinking, but hear us out. Yes, Black Box is an Italian duo, but it’s the house production and the powerhouse vocals by Martha Wash on “Everybody Everybody” that tightly connects it with African-American culture. With their cover, titled “Todo El Mundo,” Proyecto Uno officially gave birth to merenhouse, and the rest is history.
“Hombre Fiel” (samples Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls”)
Proyecto Uno went back to sampling disco music by the turn of the millennium, and they leaned on Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” to lead the way on their self-aggrandizing ode to male fidelity, “Hombre Fiel.” The original horn arrangement held up with added merengue blasts, and Magic Juan took the lead to give Summer’s iconic track a Dominican sibling.
El Party” (samples Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”)
Hip-hop was a part of Proyecto Uno’s DNA, and on their 2013 single “El Party,” they went back to its origin and mined the electro beats of Afrika Bambaataa’s proto-hip-hop staple “Planet Rock.” With its electronic sounds, this one could almost be considered “EDMerengue.”