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A Lo Oscuro 03:00
Mi Cariño 03:08
Dora 03:00
La Empaliza 02:48
Quita Sueño 03:01
Rosaura 03:08
Eroína 03:06


Ángel Salvador Viloria, popularly known as Ángel Viloria, was a Dominican accordionist, pianist, composer, and bandleader who established his career in New York City during the late 1940s and 1950s. He led the most successful merengue group outside of the Dominican Republic and helped popularize merengue in the United States in the early 1950s.

Viloria was born on June 1, 1914 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Belisa Perez and Maximiliano Viloria, a musician who played the accordion. In 1938, he played piano with Agustín Ovalle’s orquesta “La Benefactor” in Cuidad Trujillo (Santo Domingo) -- both the orchestra and the capital city were named in honor of dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961. In 1946, Viloria was the musical director of the orquesta Tropical led by composer Luis Rivera, performing at the Ariete café located in Santo Domingo (1). Shortly after, in 1948, Viloria immigrated to New York City to escape Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship and seek better opportunities.

By March 1948, Viloria had emerged on the New York music scene playing piano gigs for local cultural and civic Latin American-Spanish Caribbean clubs. The first iteration of his group Conjunto Tipico Cibaeño was called El Conjunto Cibaeño, which debuted on October 9, 1948 at the St. Nicholas Ballroom in the “El Merengue en N.Y.'' festival. Viloria also worked as a pianist for Radio Hispana WLIB in 1949. His first recording sessions took place that same year in Cuba where he recorded two boleros, “Ballerina” and “Granada,” under the name “Ángel Viloria y su ritmos” for the New York label Margo Records. In the midst of the mambo dance craze, some time between 1950 and 1952, Viloria was introduced to Puerto Rican record promoter and Ansonia Records founder Rafael “Ralph” Pérez through Dominican singer Manolita Rojas. Pérez and Viloria founded the Conjunto Típico Cibaeño, which occasionally consisted of a traditional tambora, a double-headed drum, alto saxophone, güira (wood scraper), and piano accordion. Pérez, with Ángel Viloria as the director and piano accordionist of the Conjunto Típico Cibaeño, incorporated Luis Quintero (tambora) and Jaime Richetti (güira/chorus). The conjunto’s original lead vocalist was Ramón Emilio “Mililo” Morel who, in 1953, recorded the first four merengues for Ansonia Records with the group: “Dolorita,” “Antonio Mi Hijo,” “San Antonio,” and “Ají Caribe.” According to Mililo, Julio Tonos, an Ansonia Records representative in the Dominican Republic, made the decision to not include Mililo’s name in the credits of the 78rpm releases because he disliked his voice (2). Mililo was then replaced by Dioris Valladares as lead vocalist by the summer of 1953. The group's name was later changed to Ángel Viloria y su Conjunto Típico Cibaeño.

Pérez expanded the format of the conjunto, adding the following musicians: Puerto Rican Willie Sosías (bass player), Ramón García (alto saxophone), Ramón Quesada (tenor saxophone), Dioris Valladares (güira), and Jaime Richetti and Puerto Rican Yayo El Indio (chorus). This change proved to be a winning formula for both Pérez and Viloria. By 1954, Viloria’s merengues became popular with the working class Puerto Ricans of New York, earning him the title “Rey del Merengue” (King of Merengue). The group found success internationally as well, particularly in Cuba and Haiti where their merengues influenced musicians such as Eduardo Davidson and Nemours Jean-Baptiste.

The conjunto’s run was short-lived; soon after arriving in Puerto Rico to perform at various venues on the island, Ángel Viloria died on August 26, 1954. By the time of his death, he had recorded a total of 36 merengues from 1953-54, including the timeless merengue “A Lo Oscuro” -- a playful and danceable tune that would go on to sell over 75,000 copies in October 1954. Ángel Viloria y su Conjunto Típico Cibaeño, Vol. 1-2 (ALP 1, ALP 2), were the first projected merengue recordings released by Ansonia Records as 10 inch albums in December of 1954 and marked the beginning of the 33rpm records era.

Angel Viloria y su Conjunto Típico Cibaeño Merengues Vol. 1-3 (ALP 1206, ALP 1207, ALP 1208) are a series of compilation albums that immortalized Ángel Viloria and his music. Recorded at Beltone Studios in 1953 and initially released as 78s, these merengues were compiled and released in three volumes in 1956. The recordings feature seasoned vocalist Dioris Valladares, whose influential interpretations of classic Dominican merengue compositions “A Lo Oscuro,” “La Empalizá,” “La Cruz (Palo Bonito),” “Siña Juanica,” and “Mal Pelao,” inspired the next generation of merengueros such as Johnny Ventura, Felix del Rosario, and Conjunto Quisqueya.

Despite the group’s name’s claim to be authentic (típico) rural Cibao style merengue, the group was actually influenced by Luis Alberti’s Big Band orchestra in Santo Domingo (3). Viloria emulated the jazz-influenced, sophisticated merengues of urban bandleaders with his use of the bass, and of the alto and tenor saxophone. Like Alberti, he opted for the piano accordion in place of the traditionally used button accordion, which was harmonically limited (4). This blend of merengue típico and urban style merengue gave the group a distinctive sound unheard of prior to Viloria. Their merengues consisted of jaleos (riffs), which are the last of three sections in the traditional merengues. The captivating solo jaleos were executed by Ramón E. García and mixed with the tambora and güira rhythms.

These albums include different merengue rhythms, such as pambiche, traditional merengue, and jalemengue. Viloria’s breakthrough hit “A lo Oscuro,” is his best known merengue due to the song’s contagious, hilarious, and catchy chorus: “A lo oscuro metí la mano/A lo oscuro metí los pies/A lo oscuro hice mi lío/A lo oscuro lo desaté” describing all the things you could get away with in the dark. It is also emblematic of the group’s modern sound, with a great performance of musical improvisation on the alto saxophone by Ramón E. Garcia. The lively jalemengues (a mambo-inspired saxophone introduction followed by a jaleo) “Consigueme Eso” and “Amoríos,” written by Pedro N. Pérez, are a beautiful mix with the modern conjunto típico accompaniment of tambora, piano-accordion, bass, and güira. The pambiche style, or merengue apambichao, of “Vete Lejos,” and “Macario y Felipa,” is a slower and more harmonious merengue and the tambora is played at a slightly slower tempo. Moreover, the joyful, traditional, merengue “Vironay,” better known as “Así es como se baila,” is inspired by the popular game of dice among adults in the countryside of the Dominican Republic, where they would place small and large bets on the game. This song is an updated version of the original recorded by Rafael Petitón Guzmán’s Lira Dominicana in 1940 with a highly danceable rhythm and catchy chorus. The song “El Carabine” pays homage to carabiné a folkloric rhythm and dance from the rural southwestern region of the Dominican Republic with a playful and stylized interpretation that incorporates the melody and lyrics of the song also known as “Cara Sucia” translated as “Dirty Face.”

There is even some Colombian flavor, with the porro merengue “Porque me dejaste,” a nice surprise with the entwining melodies of the alto saxophone and piano accordion. These treasures, some forgotten, are representative of Dominican merengue’s popularity internationally in the 1950s. Some of Viloria’s other well known hits on these albums were, “El Jarro Pichao,” “Yo baile con Josefina,” “El Pelero,” and “Merengue Cerrao.''

The positive reception and support for these merengues helped launched the next generation merengue conjuntos in the wake of Viloria passing in the form of Luis Quintero y su Conjunto Alma Cibaeña, Dioris Valladares y su Conjunto Típico, and Ramón García y su Conjunto Nuevo Cibao for Ansonia Records.

(1) “Ángel Viloria y su Conjunto Típico Cibaeño.” YouTube, uploaded by VideocinePalau, September 27, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyPo0W9tTqQ&ab_channel=VideocinePalau

(2) Rodríguez de León, Francisco. El Furioso Merengue Del Norte: Una Historia De La Comunidad Dominicana En Los Estados Unidos. New York, NY, 1998, 73.

(3) Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997, 74.

(4) Austerlitz, Paul. “The Jazz Tinge in Dominican Music: A Black Atlantic Perspective.” Black Music Research Journal, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 1998, p. 6.

-Jhensen Ortiz


released July 7, 1956


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