Conga Intro


The following is a collection of information and miscellaneous lore that the author has collected from a variety of teachers and sources including "being shown a thing or two" by a couple of authentic Cuban players. However, not being Latino nor raised in the traditions, no claim is made for the authenticity of the information. This is especially true for folkloric traditions since the author's interests tend toward modern Latin dance music

The author wishes to dedicate this little work to master drummer and teacher Tony West without whom none of this would have been possible.  As my teacher and a drum teacher to our community Tony chose to pass on freely the knowledge and skills that others had passed on to him. Music is not a static thing. As you read these pages it will become apparent that music and drumming grows and advances with each generation of drummers. But there are also traditions worth preserving that should be passed on unchanged.

Many reading this may be at present just starting into drumming and music.  But as you learn and advance, one day the time will come when it will be your duty to pass on freely to other beginners the very things which have been passed on to you. Do not forget those of us who shared with you so that you might share with them.  Remember what you owe to those who brought you to where you are, and pay it back not to them, but rather pay it forward into the next generation.  So be it.

The even rhythm of the Cuban tumbao along with a singing open tone to many nearly defines what are commonly known in English as "conga" drums. In Spanish the name is pronounced KOHN-ga. A conga is a group dance of African roots popular in many Latin American countries. The rhythm for the dance is also called conga and is commonly played and danced during Carnival (Spanish, Carnaval).  We will discuss patterns later.

The drums played with the dance are commonly referred to as "conga" drums but the actual name for the drums in Spanish is "tumbadora" (toom-bah-DOR-ah). In English we usually just use the term "conga drums". The drums are constructed in various sizes.

In English, conga drum sizes are usually referred to as "tumba" for the largest, "conga" for the middle size and "quinto" for the smallest. You sometimes find an even smaller solo drum referred to as a "requinto" and the smallest conga of all is called a "Ricardo" conga which is about ashiko size and played to the player's side suspended from a shoulder strap. It was popularized in the band of Desi Arnaz in the 50s from which it more or less gets its name.

Next... The various Drum Sounds

Articles by this Author:

Choosing a pre-made Drum Shell
Shells: By far the most common unfinished shells out there are the Keller Maple Shells. A drum shell normally will simply be a maple plywood tube with no holes and the ends simply cut off square....
Build - Attaching Hardware
Attaching hardware Drilling for lugs. Once the shell is finished, the final operation will be drilling the finished shell for hardware. You need to drill a hole for the drum vent (I...
Cutting Bearing Edges
Bearing edges: Cutting bearing edges is not an impossibly complex operation but there is enough equipment and set-up required that some builders defer to letting suppliers cut the edges. However,...
Conga Notation
BOX NOTATION We will be using what has become more or less a standard "tablature" notation for hand-drums. A measure or two of the rhythmic pattern is divided into boxes where each box represents an eighth...
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