Joseíto Mateo (born José Tamárez Mateo, 1920-2018) was an Afro-Dominican singer, composer, and legendary front-man known as “El Rey del Merengue,” an iconic figure of Dominican and Afro-Antillean popular music. Joseíto is one of the most celebrated and accomplished performers that the Dominican Republic has ever produced. He led a career that spanned over 80 years through various successful tours in the Caribbean, South America, and the United States. It is worth noting that today, Joseíto is seen as one of the most complete singers in Latin music with a diverse repertoire of boleros, guarachas, sones, guaguancós, bachatas, boogaloos among others. He also left his mark as a composer contributing classic Dominican merengues such as “Merenguero hasta la tambora” and “Aquí bailamos to.”
Joseíto Mateo began singing as an adolescent in the 1930s with guitar-based groups in his hometown of Villa Juana interpreting mostly boleros and sones and the casual merengue (1). As a result, Joseíto’s popularity grew and he was invited to perform for the radio station HIZ in 1940. By 1947, Joseíto Mateo had formed part of the cast of singers and musicians of the official state radio station La Yoz del Yuna. He soon appeared on 78rpm recordings for the newly founded Dominican Recording Company Caracol label which helped advance his career. From 1948-1958, Joseíto was the vocalist of the legendary Super Orquesta San José, a big band merengue orchestra directed by Papá Molina. The ensemble was one of the most popular bands of the Trujillo era and was employed by the Dictator Rafael Trujillo’s brother José Arismendy “Petán'' Trujillo on the radio station La Voz del Yuna (later renamed La Voz Dominicana). In 1955, Joseíto traveled to Venezuela contracted by Radio Caracas where he stayed for a duration of two months. Then a short time in Haiti before settling in Havana where he performed on the famous radio and television station CMQ program, “Cascabeles Candado'' accompanied by La Sonora Matancera, singing alongside Celia Cruz. Shortly after he returned to the Dominican Republic, he was invited to record with La Sonora Matancera, but could not obtain permission to leave the country due to the travel restrictions imposed by the dictatorship. In 1956, his first solo album with the Super Orquesta San José titled “Merechanga - Pa' La Pachanga'' was released for Riney Records featuring merechangas (a fusion of merengue and pachanga) that Joseíto invented. After Dictator Trujillo’s assassaination in 1961, Joseíto decided to leave the Dominican Republic and go to Puerto Rico due to his disputed association with the dictatorship. He recorded with the legendary Puerto Rican dance-band El Gran Combo in 1962 on their first album titled, “El Gran Combo con Joseíto Mateo-Menéame los mangos.” Joseíto composed their hit guaracha “Menéame los mangos'' and joined the band on their first Panamanian tour to promote the album. In 1963, he traveled to New York to perform as the lead vocalist with his long-time collaborator Luis Kalaff who led the house-band at Club Caborrojeño since 1958.
In 1964, Joseíto began a long relationship with Ralph Perez’s Ansonia Records with the release of the album “Joseito Mateo con Ramón García y su Conjunto Típico Cibao - Merengues Vol. 1” during his stay in New York City. In the subsequent years, Joseíto spent time traveling between New York City and the Dominican Republic. He recorded several albums for Ansonia, one merengue album with a full orchestra titled “Baile'' and two more merengue típico albums with his own conjunto titled Joseito Mateo y Su Conjunto Típico - Merengues Vol. 2 released in 1966 and the thrilling Joseito Mateo y Su Conjunto Típico - Merengues Vol. 3: "Caña Brava'' released in 1967. Joseíto was involved in introducing merengue for the first time in the Latin Music Festival at Madison Square Garden alongside other Dominican artists Alberto Beltran and Primitivo Santos on November 9, 1973. He remained active for the remainder of his career and was inducted into the Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2010, he received the award for Musical Excellence from the Latin Grammys. In 2017, the Ministry of Culture of the Dominican Republic dedicated a tribute concert to the career and life of Joseíto Mateo with the participation of many popular Dominican music artists who paid homage to “El Rey del Merengue.” He died soon after at the age of 98 in 2018.
(1) Hutchinson, Sydney. "Mateo, José “Joseíto”." Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro–Latin American Biography: Oxford University Press, 2016.