There’s a long running misconception that Dominican Republic’s vast musical offering is limited to merengue, bachata, and the latest chart-topping wave: dembow. But like every country and city, a plethora of scenes and stories exist within, as well as plenty of visionary musicians casing the horizon in search of unexplored sounds and intriguing new ideas.
Experimental music is nothing new for Quisqueya, even when it hasn’t always been labeled as such. Luis “El Terror” Dias, a.k.a. the father of Dominican rock and the mind behind carnival classic “Baila La Calle,” was one of the first to meld the island’s native sounds with rising international trends. He was later followed by fellow trailblazers Toné Vicioso, Xiomara Fortuna, and Irka Mateo, each putting their own spin on genre fusions, roots music, and in-depth explorations of the island’s rich musical traditions. In recent years we’ve seen Rita Indiana, Mula, and Riccie Oriach take up the experimentalist mantle to critical fanfare, anchoring their ambitious dreams for the future in the nostalgic magic of the anthems that raised them.
Today, a new crop of ingenious musicians are pushing the boundaries of the sonic realms they inhabit. To help you navigate this new chapter in Dominican experimental music, check out some of the artists refreshing our minds and playlists with their astonishing productions.
While we first took notice of Adriel.sfx in 2016 following his synth-wave inspired debut Merengue Dance Club, the adventurous La Romana producer has remained in constant evolution with every subsequent release. His 2018 follow up, Glitchy Feelings, delved into glitch and IDM, also hinting at a growing interest in future funk that came to fruition on this year’s excellent “Prólogos;” arriving complete with a self-animated music video. Recent collaborations with Javier Cali (“Juego”) and Pedro Honda (“Atrópico Remix”) of Mexico’s Montehood crew, as well as R&B chanteuses Itzel Noyz (“Explícame”) and BIDÓ (“Convos 1.0”), have positioned Adriel.sfx as the island’s next hot experimental producer.
Standing in stark contrast to the Dominican Republic’s colorful musical exuberance, dark ambient pixie Alina Labour is living proof your soul can still shiver in the steamy Caribbean. The soft-spoken producer weaves hazy soundscapes of ambient, drone, and spectral shoegaze, captured on early tracks “Constellations of Love” and “Madness.” 2020’s New Age EP found fresh inspiration in drum machines and melting synthesizers, but don’t let Labour’s anxious façade fool you. Her house and techno-fueled live performances put her toe-to-toe with incandescent contemporaries like Boundary and Paredano, unveiling completely different dimensions of sonic possibilities.
Exploding into the island’s collective consciousness as rooster-masked mambo-metal antihero Gallo Lester, Raymond Jaquez has repeatedly demonstrated he is far from a one-trick pony. Parallel projects Ray Morgana and Trilogy 8 showcase his dizzying versatility, exploring trip-hop and medieval music respectively, while his latest cryptic alias Hiamu revisits El Gallo’s bachata and merengue roots with a new arsenal of drum&bass, trap, and emo. Last year’s 1983 LP is filled with uncanny, convulsive cuts like “Nigua,” “Sortilegio,” and the visceral title track, where bachata guitars and lurching Dominican tambora merge epically with cutting edge beat making and evocative wails.
Santiago singer-songwriter and producer Rosee Abreu has rapidly become a household indie name with hypnotic songs infusing bass-heavy grooves with the carefree joy of merengue, reggaeton, and bachata. Her debut EP, Renacer, features collaborations from local luminaries such as Carolina Camacho (“Renacer”) and Ácido García (“Encuentro”), with a major production boost from Adriano Sang throughout the record. Pandemic stagnation drove Abreu to embark on her own production journey, unveiling self-crafted soft-rock single “Aprendiz” and teasing more new music before the end of the year.
Jonatan Piña Duluc
Walking the line between academic traditionalism and zealous DIY rule-breaking, Santiago’s Jonatan Piña Duluc is undoubtedly one of the brightest stars working in Dominican jazz today. But where peers like Yasser Tejeda and Issac Hernández have gained buzz for their beautiful hybrids and introspective explorations, Duluc seems far more interested in pushing the jazz medium to its breaking point. A deep dive of his ample discography and many parallel projects is highly advised, though 2021’s exquisitely avant-garde concept album Soundtrack, Vol.1: Secuencia might be a great starting point. Bold collisions of saxophone, tambora, acoustic and electric guitar, and a bevy of merengue-rooted percussive elements, all performed by Duluc, create jagged sonic snapshots begging for the modern dance treatment.