Berto Reyes grew up in Mao, a small town in the Cibao. His father, a barber, played güira and harmonica but Berto always preferred the accordion. Unfortunately his family had no money to buy the expensive instrument:
I really liked it ever since I was born. But because it was such a difficult time, one couldn’t get the money for a little accordion to learn on. I had to wait to be able to begin to work, to buy the accordion. I told my father, ‘buy me an accordion,’ but he didn’t have any money, and whatever did appear was for food.
Berto worked as a farm laborer for several years, harvesting cassava, plantains, and rice while saving money to buy an instrument. At age 20 he finally had enough, but he recalls,
I had to make the accordion myself. Because [what I got] were just pieces of an old accordion. I had to make it myself, since I was born with that ability to learn to do it
He formed a group to play perico ripiao together with bass player Santo Gil, with whom he recorded three 45 rpm records in the 1960s for the cost of 300 pesos (about $5). The group became popular through radio appearances and toured all over the country, eventually recording four complete albums. In 1993 Berto and the other musicians moved to New York on a short tour organized by fellow típico musician Ricardo Gutiérrez; they decided to stay. Berto is a prolific composer who has produced 20 CDs over the past decade, each composed mainly of original songs; his most recent release is titled “El Palo Parao.” Reyes performs regularly around the city and has even appeared at City Hall and Shea Stadium. Now in his 50s, he spends much of his time teaching aspiring accordionists at his home in Corona and tuning, building and repairing accordions for the Colombian, Mexican, and Dominican musicians of Queens. Although he appreciates many types of music, he most enjoys playing merengue típico because “it gives pleasure to everyone when they hear it.” He hopes to continue pleasing audiences for years to come.