The most popular dance is the merengue, which dominates the musical life of the Dominican Republic; a great many orchestras have recorded merengue rhythms and are now world-famous.
The traditional merengue is played by a three-man group called a perico ripiao, or pri-prí, which consists of a tambora (small drum), an accordion and a güira (a percussion instrument scraped by a metal rod, or, as originally used by Indians, a gourd scraped with a forked stick). Since the 1970s the merengue has got much faster, with less formal steps. There is a merengue festival in the last week of July and the first week of August, held on the Malecón in Santo Domingo. Puerto Plata holds its merengue festival in the first week of October and Sosúa has one the last week of September. Juan Luís Guerra is considered the greatest exponent of Dominican merengue in recent years. He won a Grammy award for Burbujas de Amor and has travelled the world with his music. Other outstanding merengueros are Fernandito Villalona, Sergio Vargas, Eddy Herrera, Los Toros Band, la Banda Gorda and Joseíto Mateo, considered for decades the ‘King’ of merengue. The group Los Ilegales have also gained international fame with their musical form called ‘merenhouse’.
Other popular dances are the mangulina, the salve, the bambulá (from Samaná), the ritmo guloya (especially in San Pedro de Macorís, see also that section), the carabiné (typical of the region around Barahona), and the chenche matriculado. Salsa is very popular in dance halls and discos (every town, however small, has a discothèque). Bachata is Dominican ‘country music’, usually songs of unrequited love, to the accompaniment of virtuoso guitar, percussion, güira and bass.
In the colonial period, Santo Domingo encouraged the development of literature within the framework of the first seats of learning in Spanish America. The early colonists expressed their inspiration most readily in poetry and the verses of Elvira de Mendoza and Leonor de Ovando are frequently cited as examples of that time. Among the many Dominican poets famed within the country in subsequent years are Gastón Fernando Deligne, Fabio Fiallo and the national poet, Pedro Mir, author of Hay un país en el mundo. The two dominant political figures of the latter half of the 20th century, Joaquín Balaguer and Juan Bosch, are also well known for their literary output, Balaguer in many styles, especially poetry, Bosch in short stories. Of the present generation of writers, Frank Moya Pons and Bernardo Vega stand out as writers of mainly historical works. Julia Alvarez, who now lives in the USA, has written very readable and interesting novels about the Trujillo era, fear and exile, a good introduction to the Dominican Republic. They include How the García girls lost their accents, In the time of the butterflies and Yo.
The first major representations of the country in painting came after 1870 with the establishment of a national identity through the Restauración movement and the consolidation of independence from Haiti. The first important painter was Alejandro Bonilla while the Spaniard José Fernández Corredor is credited with the foundation of the first painting school in the country. From this period the artists Arturo Grullón, Luis Desangles (Sisito), Leopoldo Navarro and Abelardo Rodríguez Urdaneta stand out. The last named is famous as painter, sculptor and photographer. In the 1930s, Jaime Colson, Yoryi Morel and Darío Suro were precursors of costumbrismo (art of customs and manners). Contemporary painters have followed the various styles which have prevailed throughout the art world. Those who have gained an international reputation are Iván Tovar, Ramón Oviedo, Cándido Bidó, José Rincón Mora, José Ramírez Conde and Paul Giudicelli. Exhibitions of Dominican art are held frequently in Santo Domingo galleries, for example the Voluntariado de las Casas Reales, Galería Nader, Museo de Arte Moderno, El Pincel, La Galería, and others. For additional details on Dominican painters, consult Arte contemporáneo dominicano, by Gary Nicolás Nader, and Antología de la pintura dominicana, by Cándido Gerón.
El Consejo Presidencial de Cultura and UNESCO have made an evaluation of murals painted in Santo Domingo, counting 187 as part of the national heritage. They can be found in the Centro de los Héroes, Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, Palacio de Bellas Artes, buildings in the Plaza de la Cultura, the Ayuntamiento, Banco de Reservas and Instituto del Seguro Social. Murals have been painted by Jaime Colson, Jamie Vela Zanetti, Eligio Pichardo, José Ramírez Conde, Paul Giudicelli, Clara Ledesma and Amable Sterling.
For details on theatres and other sites of cultural interest, see Entertainment - Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata and Sosúa.