Music and dance are in the blood of the islanders, whose innate love to party is the inspiration for a great number of popular celebrations throughout the year. But some of the more formal events lead also to the coming together of world class performers, who gather here to tap into the beat, take to the stage and keep the popular traditions alive not only locally but as international stars.
The Dominican Republic Jazz Festival is held in November and is probably the most anticipated event on the north coast, bringing together such notable players as Chuck Mangione, David Sanchez, Ray Beretto and Nestor Towers. This is the home of the merengue, so it is no surprise that Latin Jazz is high up on the programme. In 2008 it took place in Cabarete Beach and Santiago’s Teatro Cibao, while the level of technical production, sound and stenography was excellent. The festival attempts also to attract young performers and local kids who may be interested in getting involved in the arts scene, by putting on a series of educational workshops.
In contrast, the biennial Santo Domingo Music Festival held in the spring is dedicated to classical music, drawing leading performers and orchestras from across the United States and Europe and producing performances of exceptional quality which have been greeted with enormous enthusiasm by the public.
To engage a musical audience with a competitive spirit, the Eduardo Brito Festival of Dominican Song is named after the famous Dominican Baritone and aims to encourage composition among contestants who compete for a generous cash prize. Each composer must submit one song which is original and written especially for the competition, and can be performed either by a soloist or by two, three or four voices. At the Merengue Festival on the other hand, the only competition is to see how fast the rhythm and how quick the dance movements can get, as crowds gather on Santo Domingo’s main seaside promenade, El Malecón, to put on their dancing shoes and enjoy the fabulous atomosphere and the midsummer heat.
The Dominican Republic has not one, but two carnivals: the La Vega Carnival widely considered to be the most spectacular, but not leaving the Santo Domingo Carnival far behind. At Santo Domingo, look out for the traditional devil costumes and the Carnival King’s giant parade down the Malecón which closes the event in grand style. La Vega is the showcase for the island’s African heritage, with costumes of grotesque and outrageously vivid colours and forms, offset by the typical horned headdresses. An amazing occasion, and definitely not to be celebrated without a great deal of dancing to the pulsating beat of the salsa and merengue.
While the celebrations on land are fun, the seas off the Dominican Republic’s shores are a haven for watersports for the beginner or even the serious sportsman. There are a number of important annual events which attract top international competitors, such as the Caribbean Laser Midwinter which in January marks the start of the world’s laser regatta calendar and is recognized by ISAF so that its result affect world rankings. In February, the Master of the Ocean competition is an enjoyable event which aims to find the world’s best overall water-sport athlete across the three disciplines of surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding. Its qualifying heats take place at Cabarete Bay, while the final is held at Playa Encuentro.
The yearly events calendar is rounded off in December by the Dominican International Film Festival, a glittering four-day celebration of film with screenings in cinemas and on the Puerto Plata beach, panel discussions, workshops and fantastic parties where film buffs get to mingle with the stars.