a history of
dominican music
in the united states

Educational Resource: Proyecto Uno

Proyecto Uno Todo el Mundo CD album cover, 1991

Proyecto Uno Todo el Mundo CD album cover, 1991 (Credit: CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Library; Music Collection)

Educational Profile

Proyecto Uno is an internationally-recognized merengue house group that emerged in New York City’s Lower East Side at the end of the 1980s. Founded by U.S.-raised Dominicans Nelson Zapata and Rick Echevarría, Proyecto Uno was the first group exclusively dedicated to blending traditional merengue with U.S. genres such as house, hip-hop, and rap. The pair, along with producer Pavel de Jesús, are credited with establishing the merengue house genre and ushering in a hemispheric movement of the same name in the 1990s.

The visionary and creative director behind Proyecto Uno was Nelson Zapata. He was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Rafael and Gladys Zapata. His family also included two sisters on his father’s side, and between his parents, two younger brothers. After falling on hard times financially in the Dominican Republic the Zapata family emigrated to the Big Apple, taking residence at 15th Street between First and Second Avenue in Manhattan. According to Zapata, his music career began in high school when his friend Carlos de Jesús asked him to participate in a student talent show. Seward High School’s talent show gave Zapata and de Jesús the opportunity to showcase their Dominican heritage and distinguish themselves among the rest of performers. For the high school performance, Zapata learned how to play the güira, a percussion instrument used in traditional merengue music.

Zapata and de Jesús would continue with their friendship and collaboration. They formed a group that performed in local dances in the Dominican community. Though the group disbanded shortly after its creation, Zapata’s music career had already begun its course.  He joined other groups and continued to perform merengue music. With each band, Zapata gained experience; he also learned about the importance of creativity and of entering the music scene with a mark of one’s own instead of repetitive repertoires. Zapata also developed his singing skills, taking leading roles in some of the musical bands he worked with.

In 1989, Zapata formed Proyecto Uno. In its first iteration, Proyecto Uno was a cover band known for performing merengue hits in restaurants and other small, modest local venues where people gathered to dance. The group began developing its signature fusion style after Zapata became interested in the music his childhood friend from Santo Domingo, Pavel de Jesús, was doing at Quad Studios. At Quad Studios, de Jesús worked as an assistant and sound engineer for house music legends David Morales and Frankie Knuckles, among others. Upon Zapata’s request, de Jesús began to try blending house music with merengue.[1] The impromptu mixing created a new sound and rhythm; the next step was to create fitting lyrics that captured the uniqueness of the new beat. This experimentation led to the creation of “Todo el mundo” (“Everybody”), the breakout track on Proyecto Uno’s debut album of the same title, released in 1990. “Todo el mundo” was extremely well-received in the U.S. and Latin America, catapulting the group on to the international stage.[2]

The key to the song’s success was the freshness of its rhythm and its lyrics. Inspired by  “Everybody Everybody,” from the Italian house music band named Black Box, Proyecto Uno reimagined the song through a creative use of language and sound. While Zapata translated the song’s lyrics into Spanish, he left the song’s chorus in English, evincing clearly the mixing of language and the emergence of a new musical style, autochthonous of the new milieu. Though the fusion of house with merengue increased the pace and liveliness of the song, enriching its infectious quality, at the beginning merengue enthusiasts and hip-hop fans were taken by surprise by the new creation. The categorization of the new music was not simple, and it was clear that Proyecto Uno’s music was drawing from both merengue and hip-hop. This unique sound, however, imposed itself and attracted fans from both camps as well as new ones. The sound and the rhythm resonated with Latino youth in New York City as well as in Latin America, adding to a music scene that reflected an emerging Pan-Latin urban culture, here and there. Similarly, Proyecto Uno’s music contributed to the solidification of the development of a Dominican identity in the U.S., a phenomenon in the making that sought to create a space that was distinct from others, and that followed in the footsteps of Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Cubans, and African Americans in their quest for reaffirming an identity of their own decades before.

Proyecto Uno’s momentum continued with the release of “Brinca,” also from the Todo el Mundo! album, which topped music charts around the world. This track featured Magic Juan, who was born in Washington Heights to Dominican parents and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey. In addition, the band included two American freestyle vocalists of Puerto Rican ancestry: Erik Morales and Johnny Salgado.[3] Proyecto Uno’s success opened doors to begin performing internationally. The band’s first show was in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where they played for up to 50,000 people.[4] In 1993, Proyecto Uno released its sophomore album, In Da House, for which the group received its first platinum record certification.[5] This record featured smash singles entitled “Está pegao” and “El Tiburón.”

Proyecto Uno’s success inspired the emergence of other fusion groups, including Los Ilegales, Sandy y Papo, and Fulanito in New York City, and Zona 7 in Venezuela.[6] Over the decades, Proyecto Uno expanded its fusion incorporating other rhythms such as reggaetón and bachata with hip-hop and rap. Merengue, however, remains the group’s preferred rhythm. Despite the rise of other groups and the expansion of merengue house music, Proyecto Uno has remained an active popular group until today. Staying true to its original sound has helped the group to maintain its prominent status in the merengue house movement.

Proyecto Uno earned many accolades in the U.S., including two Emmy awards (1997 and 1999), and a Latin Billboard (1997).  They also won two Orquídea awards in Venezuela (1993 and 1995).

[1] Zapata, Nelson. “La historia de Proyecto Uno, contada por uno de sus fundadores.” Vice, 29 July 2015, https://www.vice.com/es_latam/article/64v4xm/la-historia-de-proyecto-uno-contada-por-uno-de-sus-fundadores-nelson-zapata. Accessed 27 February, 2020.

[2] Marmo, Silvia. “Proyecto Uno ‘está pegao’ desde hace 27 años.” El Nuevo Herald, 24 July, 2018, https://www.elnuevoherald.com/entretenimiento/musica/article215378085.html. Accessed 27 February, 2020.

[3] Bush, John. “Proyecto Uno.” All Music, 2020, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/proyecto-uno-mn0000857651/biography. Accessed 27 January, 2020.

[4] Zapata, “La historia de Proyecto Uno”

[5] “Biography,” ProyectoUno.Net, 2020, https://proyectouno.net/. Accessed 27 January, 2020.

[6] “Biografía de Proyecto Uno,” BuenaMúsica.com, https://www.buenamusica.com/proyecto-uno/biografia. Accessed 27 January, 2020.


Discussion Questions
  1. What role did friendship play in the development of Nelson Zapata’s music career?
  2. What was the significance of merengue house for young Latinos in New York City and in Latin America?
  3. What were some factors that contributed to the internationalization of Proyecto Uno’s music?
  4. How did Proyecto Uno contribute to expand music in the U.S. society in general?

⦁    Listen to these short audio clips of songs composed by Proyecto Uno: “Todo el Mundo”“Esta Pegao”“El Tiburón”, and  “Brinca”. Compare and contrast their rhythms, music genres, melodies, technique, lyrics, sampling, etc. Why and how do you think Proyecto Uno compose these songs and their music in general? Imagine yourself in the studio in the 1990s. What technology did Proyecto Uno use to mix the different rhythms you can hear in the songs? How do you think they recorded it in the studio?

⦁    Write a short essay reflecting how Proyecto Uno music expresses forms of Dominican identity in the United States? How do Proyecto Uno songs show the cultural hybridity of Dominican music today? Prepare a composition where you can reflect your own identity in the U.S.

⦁    Choose an instrumental portion of a song performed by Proyecto Uno and write a lyrical verse to it (you can use improvisation). What topic would you sing/rap about that reflects your own culture?


Merengue House/Merenrap- a hip hop music style formed by blending Dominican merengue music with rap, dancehall reggae, and hip hop.

Güira- an instrument from the Dominican Republic used as a percussion instrument in merengue and bachata. It is made of a metal sheet (commonly steel, and played with a stiff brush and is most often found in merengue típico.

House music- a genre of electronic dance music characterized by a repetitive four on the floor beat and a tempo of 120 to 130 beats per minute.

Pan-Latin- Encompassing or involving all speakers of Romance languages, or all people of Latin American origin; of, relating to, or characteristic of pan-Latinism.