No sound sets the dance floor on fire in the Dominican Republic like merengue típico. Also known as perico ripiao, it is the oldest style of merengue, with bands composed of a bass guitar, guira, conga, tambora, and the most important of all — an accordion.
One of the main purveyors of the genre is Fefita La Grande, whose fun spirit and deeply felt fervor for music continue to capture audiences nationwide. Launching her career in the 1950s and gaining popularity in the 1970s, her presence in the male-dominated space completely shifted perceptions of who could lead bands. Perhaps even more astonishingly, however, it was her free unapologetic style that paved the way for performers today to have freedom of self-expression that defies societal standards, making women and girls who enter this space rebels.
Merengue típico in itself is a rebel genre that was once rejected by the upper class for its Black roots requiring speed on the dancefloor. Unlike heart-wrenching soulful sounds like bachata (which was also rejected) or salsa, típico songs manage to detail passionate love and heartbreak in refreshing and even funny ways that speak to the local culture.
When women enter the scene, many starting their careers before they’ve hit their teens, they must command the space with unmatched accordion-playing skill, an undeniable flow, and high-spirited energy that is infectious if not spellbinding. After “La Mayimba” Fefita La Grande burst through the scene, other women like Maria Díaz and La India Canela entered the space and thrived as they were not alone. Today, newer acts continue to pop up like La Inquieta, La Princesa, Nelly Swing, Pamela Ulloa, and others, promising to continue this legacy of women encendiendo the dance floor.
Here are some of the well-known rebel women and girls of merengue típico who promise to light up any space they’re in.
La Reyna María Díaz
María Díaz was dubbed La Reyna del Merengue Típico after she’s been capturing audiences for decades with her honest voice and musical talent (she’s also a composer and arranger). Born in the 1960s in the region of Nagua, Blanca María Díaz Martínez was inspired to learn to play all on her own after witnessing her father playing the accordion. It is said that when she began as a young girl, the accordion she used was bigger than herself. Eventually, Díaz would move to New York City where her career took off before returning to the DR. In 1991 she released the album “La Reina del Merengue Típico,” making her reigning title official.
La India Canela
La India Canela was only 14-years-old when Fefita La Grande’s saxophonist went up to her home in Limon, Villa Gonzalez, and told her he was forming a band for her after listening to her play. Born Lidia María Hernández López, La India Canela seized the general public with the single “Apriétame Así”—a fresh, lively tune expressing fiery desire all adult audiences could relate to. Her name acknowledges both her brown skin and the fiery sweetness of her beats. Hernández is also known for being able to perfectly play the difficult instrumental “Las Siete Pasadas.”
Lidia de la Rosa
Sometimes called “La Muñequita del Acordión,” Lidia de la Rosa is credited for being the first bandleader to mix up her sound by including instruments like timbales and guitar—and the inclusion of rappers. From the region of Janico in Santiago, she captivated audiences with her interpretation of classics like “La Chiflera” while wearing bedazzled bra tops granting her her nickname of “doll.” In 1989, she went on tour through New York and had to extend her stay for a few months after witnessing how enthralled audiences were by her music.
Raquel Arias became popular in the ‘90s particularly with the 1998 hit single “Porque Te Fuiste Dulce Amor,” written by her brother Daniel Arias. She began her career in the 1980s as a teenager and recorded her first album in 1989 — appropriately titled “La Fiera del Caribe,” which launched her journey of setting the dance floor on fire. In 2002, Arias left the general stage to perform Christian songs and devote herself to the church. She would perform a Christian version of her hit single “Porque te fuiste dulce amor.” Eventually, she returned to secular music in 2018 with catchy songs like “La grama chapia” and “Aficia.”
The nickname “La Mami del Swing” doesn’t come lightly—much like the very music of Típico, it captures a sentiment one must-have when performing. This is why it’s an apt title for Fidelina Pascual, whose flow and fun cadence have been dazzling the public since she formed her first group in 1993. On one of her most popular singles, “Lllámame,” she desperately asks her papi chulo to call her back.
Las Niñas Divinas
Women and girls are set to continue blazing a path forward as queens in the típico realm, and perhaps the biggest testament to that is the group Las Niñas Divinas. The girls seized national attention during the competition Dominicana’s Got Talent, bringing joy to the home of millions in the middle of the pandemic. Formed by 12-year-old Anyelkys Acosta on the accordion, and her younger sisters, Anyerlis on the drums and Amberlys on the guitar, the sisters’ cover of songs like “Los Cabareces,” “Eta Que Ta Aquí” and “Vamo hablar inglés” continue taking the internet by storm.