“The story goes that when God finished creating Earth, he realized that he was forgetting something; so he went back to work, created Tatico’s hands, and made sure they could handle an accordion and play merengue.” (Chaljub Mejia, 137.)
Domingo Garcia Henriquez, affectionately known as ‘Tatico’, was one of the most influential musicians in the history of the Dominican Republic. An accordionist, singer, and band leader, he is credited with helping to modernize merengue tipico (also known as Perico Ripiao) by introducing new instruments to the traditional format.
Tatico was born into a musical family on July 30th, 1943 in Nagua, on the North coast of the Dominican Republic. Nagua, a musical town of the merengue loving Silvao region, has produced a number of other important merengue tipico artists, including Geovanny Polanco, and El Ciego de Nagua. Tatico Henriquez began playing accordion under the guidance of his father, Bolo Henriquez, and uncle Bilo, who were both seasoned accordionists. Bolo and Bilo Henriquez soon began bringing young Tatico to play with them at religious functions. Nagua in the 1950s nurtured a thriving merengue tipico scene. Tatico was able to advance his technique under tutelage of some of the Dominican Republic’s best tipico players, including famed accordionists Ramon ‘Matoncito’ Mezquita and the great Pedro Reynoso, leader of the famous group ‘Trio Reynoso’. Before long, Tatico became a local celebrity in his hometown, performing regularly at parties and events, and being featured on local radio stations.
In 1966, after Pedro Reynoso’s death, Tatico was recruited by Trio Reynoso (also known as ‘The kings of Merengue Tipico’) to fill Pedro’s vacancy on accordion. His first performance with Trio Reynoso was at the Gran Teatro Agua y Luz del centro de los heroes de Santo Domingo, and he was instantly recognized for his unique playing. Trio Reynoso was among the most popular musical groups in the Dominican Republic during the latter part of the Trujillo era (Trujillo was assassinated in 1961). With Tatico, the group’s popularity grew further and it gained renown in the neighboring islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba. The group came to be known as ‘Trio Reynoso con Tatico’, releasing an album under that same name, and Tatico earned the nickname ‘El Monarca del Acordeón’ (The Monarch of the Accordion.)
Tatico eventually formed his own band, ‘Tatico y sus Muchachos’, and was a regular fixture on the popular radio station Radio Quisqueyana, on the show Musica Tipica Dominicana hosted by DJ Rafael Cardenas. Songs like Los Picadores, La Mujer Ajena, La Mujer Es Una Flor and La Correa, helped make Tatico famous throughout the Dominican Republic, leading to many tours and recordings. Cardenas continued to work as Tatico’s impresario and touring agent. Some of the musicians Tatico worked with include Domingo Peña, El Viejo Ka, Manolo Perez, Julio Henriquez (Tatico’s brother), Milo Francisco, and Milciadez Reinoso.
One of Tatico’s most important contributions to merengue tipico was his modification of the traditional band format: prior to Tatico, a tipico band would consist of a two-row diatonic accordion, güira, tambora, marimba (bass-type instrument made from a wood box and slats of metal), and occasionally a saxophone. Tatico replaced the marimba with an electric bass, added congas, and incorporated two saxophones, having them both harmonize with the accordion.
Tatico also breathed new life into old merengues by interpreting them with his modern instrumentation, and at a faster tempo. This helped to revitalize the merengue tipico repertoire for younger audiences. Compositions by Nico Lora, Prieto Tomas, Toño Abreu, and Tatico’s former mentor, Ramon ‘Matoncito’ Mezquita became popular anew through Tatico’s re-interpretations. Although at the time Tatico didn’t give the original composers credit, many classic tipico compositions are known today thanks to Tatico’s recordings.
Tatico died on May 21st, 1976 in a car crash in Santiago de los Caballeros, while driving under the influence of alcohol. He was laid to rest in his hometown of Nagua. The city of Nagua has built a music museum and pubic park in Tatico’s memory. The Tatico Henriquez Park, situated across from the Nagua government’s headquarters, is also host to an annual Tatico Henriquez Folk Music Festival.
Tatico Henriquez has sold the most records of any merengue tipico artist. Among tipico aficionados Tatico has an almost cult-like following. His popularity has grown anew with the resurgence of interest in the genre, and his songs, viewed as classics, are frequently performed by young merengueros– much as Tatico himself once paid homage to the songs of earlier generations.