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 (1). 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 (2). 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) Austerlitz, Paul. Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997, 74.
(2) Austerlitz, Paul. “The Jazz Tinge in Dominican Music: A Black Atlantic Perspective.” Black Music Research Journal, vol. 18, no. 1/2, 1998, p. 6.