The Greatest Night in the History of Merengue

Tatico Siempre
There is a statue of Tatico Henriquez in Nagua, Dominican Republic. Everyday, at noon, his biggest fan goes there with his old radio, to render honor to his idol. Tatico was an accordion player, one of the first Dominican merengue artists to have his LPs heard throughout the US. At a time when merengue was morphing from a countryside music played with an accordion to a ballroom music played with the saxophone and carrying heavy jazz influences, Tatico's charisma and ability to express the peculiar character of his people made him our Jimmy Hendrix.

Tatico Siempre
Tatico grew up in the countryside, in the campo, and would go on horseback to the main town to play his accordion. There were no roads leading from Mata Bonita to the main part of Nagua, and certainly no lights to guide the way. He and his band-mates fashioned torches by placing a piece of bread soaked in kerosene on top of a stick, using the flames to guide the way. 

Tatico Siempre
One day a pair of men pull up into Mata Bonita in their black car -- vehicles were an unimaginable luxury in the campo at the time -- so Tatico started panicking when he heard men in a car were looking for him. When they arrive, he was chopping away with his machete.

He approached the men, sweaty and with machete in hand, exclaiming: "I haven't stolen, killed, nor fought!" 

"No, we're from the Trio Reynoso," they told him. "We want you to play with us, our main accordionist has died." The Trio Reynoso was the most popular merengue tipico band during the Trujillo Era [1930-1961.] Tatico wasn't convinced, so Manolo Perez agreed to spend three days partying hard with him before parting for the capital, to prove that they were up to his caliber.

In an unimaginably impossible way, Tatico went from nothing in the countryside to the biggest star in the Dominican Republic. 

Naturally, money, guns, cars, and women followed his rise to fame. He became good friends with one  Lalán Collado, a famous photographic journalist. They were both fond of feasting on goat meat, so one day Lalán says to Tatico: "Come to my father's house, we're gonna feast on goat."

Tatico replied: "Just make sure the goat doesn't get loose before I go there."

Lalán Collado
Lalán, like a typical Dominican goatboy, was hanging around shirtless, gun by his waist, when Tatico arrived. Tatico wasn't very impressed with Lalán's gun, telling him: "That's dead weight, that shit won't shoot!"

Lalán simply said, "Tatico, stop playing, this gun does shoot true!" Tatico dared him, and next thing history knows, Lalán is emptying the cylinder into an orange tree.

Lalán said: "Tatico then pulled out his 'mule leg' and emptied the clip into the vine." Lalán quickly reloaded the seven bullets in his pistol, and emptied them into the vine once again. Lalán says that Tatico enjoyed "polemics," telling him his gun couldn't shoot in comparison to his own. 

The scene became intense, and eventually the police got word that Tatico and Lalán were gunning down the whole countryside. When the police arrived, they found Tatico's gun was so hot you could light a cigarette from it, while Lalán's piece had melted. The orange tree did not have one single leaf left. 

Police tell them: "You're all detained!" While they waited for a Lieutenant nicknamed "Arm-Breaker" to arrive and issue an official incarceration order, they decided to perform a few merengue songs in the park. The park got packed, everybody wanted to hear the prisoners perform and within a week, the song La Balacera [the shootout,] was on track to become one of the most iconic merengue songs of all time. 

The idea of a group of prisoners performing accordion merengue to the delight of prison guards served as an influence for the movie Perico Ripiao -- the highest grossing Dominican movie of all time [trailer.] Merengue tipico is pejoratively referred to as Perico Ripiao, the name of a brothel where the music was played during the time when it was banned throughout upper-class saloons.