The conga, or more properly the tumbadora, is a tall, narrow, single-headed Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

n drum
The drum is a member of the percussion group of musical instruments, which is technically classified as the membranophones. Drums consist of at least one membrane, called a drumhead or drum skin, that is stretched over a shell and struck, either directly with the player's hands, or with a...

 with African antecedents. It is thought to be derived from the Makuta
Makuta (drum)
Makuta drums are tall cylindrical or barrel-shaped Afro-Cuban drums, often cited as an important influence on the development of the tumbadora . They are used in sacred dance-drumming ceremonies associated with the descendants of slaves brought to Cuba from Central Africa...

 drums or similar drums associated with Afro-Cuban
The term Afro-Cuban refers to Cubans of Sub Saharan African ancestry, and to historical or cultural elements in Cuba thought to emanate from this community...

s of Central Africa
Central Africa
Central Africa is a core region of the African continent which includes Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda....

n descent. A person who plays conga is called a conguero. Although ultimately derived from African drums made from hollowed logs, the Cuban conga is staved, like a barrel. These drums were probably made from salvaged barrels originally. They are used both in Afro-Caribbean religious music and as the principal instrument in rumba
Cuban Rumba
In Cuban music, Rumba is a generic term covering a variety of musical rhythms and associated dances. The rumba has its influences in the music brought to Cuba by Africans brought to Cuba as slaves as well as Spanish colonizers...

. Congas are now very common in Latin music, including salsa music
Salsa music
Salsa music is a genre of music, generally defined as a modern style of playing Cuban Son, Son Montuno, and Guaracha with touches from other genres of music...

, merengue music
Merengue music
Merengue is a type of music and dance from the Dominican Republic. It is popular in the Dominican Republic and all over Latin America. Its name is Spanish, taken from the name of the meringue, a dessert made from whipped egg whites and sugar...

, and Reggaeton
Reggaeton is a form of Puerto Rican and Latin American urban and Caribbean music. After its mainstream exposure in 2004, it spread to North American, European and Asian audiences. Reggaeton originated in Puerto Rico but is also has roots from Reggae en Español from Panama and Puerto Rico and...

, as well as many other forms of American popular music
Popular music
Popular music belongs to any of a number of musical genres "having wide appeal" and is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional music, which are typically disseminated academically or orally to smaller, local...


Most modern congas have a staved wooden or fiberglass shell, and a screw-tensioned drumhead. They are usually played in sets of two to four with the fingers and palms of the hand. Typical congas stand approximately 75 centimetres (29.5 in) from the bottom of the shell to the head. The drums may be played while seated. Alternatively, the drums may be mounted on a rack or stand to permit the player to play while standing. While they originated in Cuba, their incorporation into the popular and folk music of other countries has resulted in diversification of terminology for the instruments and the players. Ben F. Jacoby's Introduction to the Conga Drum holds that the drums are called congas in English, but tumbadoras in Spanish. The drums, in order of size from largest to smallest, are the tumba, conga, quinto, the rare requinto, and the side-strap mounted ricardo. The Conga Page agrees with the congas vs. tumbadoras terminology. Music of Puerto Rico refers to the drums only as congas, but gives the names as tumba for the largest and niño for the smallest, not providing names for the two middle drums. Alex Pertout's The Conga Drum: an Introduction points out that the names for the individual drums vary even in Cuba, and gives the names of three drums: tumbadora (largest), conga or segundo (middle), and quinto (smallest).

The Glossary Of Latin Music Terms agrees with tumba / conga / quinto, but defines the extra super quinto drum, smaller than the quinto. The term tres golpes may also be used for the conga.'s History of Conga Drums also agrees with the terms tumba / conga / quinto, but allows the synonyms, added a drum below the tumba, which he called the supertumba.

Conga players are called congueros, while rumberos refers to those who dance following the path of the players. The term conga was popularized in the 1950s, when Latin music swept the United States. Cuban son and New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

 fused together to create what was then termed mambo, but later became known as salsa
Salsa music
Salsa music is a genre of music, generally defined as a modern style of playing Cuban Son, Son Montuno, and Guaracha with touches from other genres of music...

. In that same period, the popularity of the Conga Line
Conga Line
The conga line is a Cuban carnival march that was first developed in Cuba and became popular in the United States in the 1930s and 1950s. The dancers form a long, processing line. It has three shuffle steps on the beat, followed by a kick that is slightly ahead of the fourth beat...

 helped to spread this new term. Desi Arnaz
Desi Arnaz
Desi Arnaz was a Cuban-born American musician, actor and television producer. While he gained international renown for leading a Latin music band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, he is probably best known for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the American TV series I Love Lucy, starring with Lucille Ball, to...

 also played a role in the popularization of conga drums. However, the drum he played (which everyone called a conga drum at the time) was similar to the type of drum known as boku used in his hometown, Santiago de Cuba. The word conga came from the rhythm la conga used during carnaval (carnival) in Cuba. The drums used in carnaval could have been referred to as tambores de conga since they played the rhythm la conga, and thus translated into English as conga drums.


There are five basic strokes:
  • Open tone (tono abierto): played with the four fingers near the rim of the head, producing a clear resonant tone with a distinct pitch.
  • Muffled or mute tone (tono ahogado): like the open tone, is made by striking the drum with the four fingers, but holding the fingers against the head to muffle the tone.
  • Bass tone (tono bajo): played with the full palm on the head. It produces a low muted sound.
  • Slap tone (tono seco): the most difficult technique producing a loud clear "popping" sound (when played at fast and short intervals is called floreo, played to instill emotion in the dancer).
  • Touch tone (toque de punta): as implied by the name, this tone is produced by just touching the fingers or heel of the palm to the drum head. It is possible to combine a touch of the palm with a touch of the fingers in a maneuver called heel-toe (manoteo), which can be used to produce the conga equivalent of drumrolls.

The moose call or glissando
In music, a glissando is a glide from one pitch to another. It is an Italianized musical term derived from the French glisser, to glide. In some contexts it is distinguished from the continuous portamento...

is done by rubbing the third finger, supported by the thumb, across the head of the drum. The finger is sometimes moistened with saliva or sweat, and sometimes a little coat of beeswax is put on the surface of the conga head to help make the sound. The moose call is also done on the bongos.

To bend the pitch of the congas, a conguero sometimes uses his elbow to shift around on and apply pressure to different parts of the head; this causes the note to change. This is not a traditional stroke, but it is common in modern salsa and rumba.

Occasionally sticks are used on congas: some sticks, such as the Regal Tip's conga sticks are made to imitate the sound of a hand hitting a conga; even timpani
Timpani, or kettledrums, are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum, they consist of a skin called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet...

 mallets, timbale
Timbales are shallow single-headed drums with metal casing, invented in Cuba. They are shallower in shape than single-headed tom-toms, and usually much higher tuned...

 sticks, etc. have been used on congas, despite the fact that the conga is usually called a hand drum.


There are various rhythms for the conga, the most well-known being the marcha.This rhythm is commonly played on 1 to 3 congas, but has no true limit for the amount used. The marcha is the most common rhythm in Salsa/Son. Some songs that include the marcha or slight variations (Guajira)(chachacha) of the rhythm are:
  • Oye Como Va by Tito Puente
    Tito Puente
    Tito Puente, , born Ernesto Antonio Puente, was a Latin jazz and Salsa musician. The son of native Puerto Ricans Ernest and Ercilia Puente, of Spanish Harlem in New York City, Puente is often credited as "El Rey de los Timbales" and "The King of Latin Music"...

  • Pedro Navaja
    Pedro Navaja
    Pedro Navaja is a salsa song written and performed by Rubén Blades from the 1978 album Siembra, about a criminal of the same name. "Navaja" means knife or razor in Spanish. Inspired by the song Mack the Knife, it tells the story of a panderer's life and his presumed death...

    by Willie Colón
    Willie Colón
    William Anthony Colón is a Nuyorican salsa musician. Primarily a trombonist, Colón also sings, writes, produces and acts. He is also involved in municipal politics in New York City.-Early years:...

     and Rubén Blades
    Rubén Blades
    Rubén Blades Bellido de Luna is a Panamanian salsa singer, songwriter, lawyer, actor, Latin jazz musician, and politician, performing musically most often in the Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz genres...

  • Se Le Ve by Andy Montañez
    Andy Montañez
    Andrés Montañez , better known as Andy Montañez, is a salsa singer from Puerto Rico.-Early life:Montañez, like singer Daniel Santos and boxer Ossie Ocasio, is a native of the Tras Talleres area of Santurce San Juan. He is known by the nickname "El Godfather de la Salsa"...

     and Daddy Yankee
    Daddy Yankee
    Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez , known artistically as Daddy Yankee, is a Latin Grammy Award winning Puerto Rican Reggaeton recording artist. Ayala was born in Río Piedras, the largest district of San Juan, where he became interested in music at a young age. In his youth he was interested in baseball,...

  • Watermelon Man by Mongo Santamaría
    Mongo Santamaría
    Ramón "Mongo" Santamaría Rodríguez was an Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist. He is most famous for being the composer of the jazz standard "Afro Blue," recorded by John Coltrane among others. In 1950 he moved to New York where he played with Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Fania All...

  • Los Dos Jueyes by Domingo Quiñones and Zion
  • Amor Verdandero and A Maria Le Gusta by Afro Cuban All Stars
  • Quizas, Quizas, Quizas by Omara Portuondo
    Omara Portuondo
    Omara Portuondo Peláez is a Cuban singer and dancer whose career has spanned over half a century. She was one of the original members of the Cuarteto d'Aida, and has performed with Ignacio Piñeiro, Orquesta Anacaona, Orquesta Aragón, Nat King Cole, Adalberto Álvarez, Los Van Van, the Buena Vista...

     and Teresa Garcia Cartula
  • Armonias del Romañe by Tomatito
    José Fernández Torres, known as Tomatito , is a Spanish Romani flamenco guitarist. He grew up in a musical family, including two uncles: Niño Miguel, a flamenco guitarist, and Antonio, a professional guitarist....

  • Soy Guanaco Salvadoreño by Bobby Rivas
    Bobby Rivas
    Bobby Rivas is a salsa/balladeer singer, composer, actor and musician from El Salvador. His band performs salsa, as well as Motown, Oldies, and Top-40 music at his group's concerts....

  • Hoy tenemos by Sidestepper
    For the enemy in the Mario Bros game, seeRecurring enemies in the Mario seriesSidestepper is a Colombian band centered around English DJ/producer Richard Blair and Colombian producer/songwriter Ivan Benavides. Their sound is influenced both by Afro-Colombian popular music styles like salsa and...

  • Ahora Vengo Yo by Anthonious Meer, Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz
    Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz
    Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz are an American musical duo consisting of Ricardo "Richie" Ray and Roberto "Bobby" Cruz. The duo was formed in 1963 and rose to fame in the mid 1960s. They are one of the most famous interpreters of 'salsa brava' music....

  • Hipocrecía by Fruko y sus Tesos
    Fruko y sus Tesos
    Fruko y sus Tesos is a salsa group from Colombia which enjoys immense popularity throughout the Latin American world. It was formed in 1970 by Julio Ernesto Estrada, artistically known as "Fruko" who modeled it after the New York salsa sound of the Fania All-Stars, one of the leading salsa groups...

  • Escucha el Rithmo by Spanish Harlem Orchestra
    Spanish Harlem Orchestra
    Spanish Harlem Orchestra is a Latin dance music orchestra based in the United States, founded by Aaron Levinson and Oscar Hernandez.Their debut album was released in October 2002...

  • Me Voy Pa Cali by Oscar D'León
    Oscar D'León
    Oscar Emilio León Somoza, better known as Oscar D'León is a Venezuelan musician who became internationally famous for his salsa music. In Spanish, he is known as El Sonero del Mundo . His most famous song is perhaps "Llorarás," which he recorded in 1975 with his group La Dimensión Latina...

  • Boogaloo Chevere by Sonora Carruseles
    Sonora Carruseles
    La Sonora Carruseles is a salsa band originating in 1995 from Colombia. They are currently established in Miami, Florida. Their music has been featured in televised competitions such as So You Think You Can Dance.-Beginnings:...

  • Virus by Bamboleo
  • Oye Baila Mi Onda by Orquesta Aragón
    Orquesta Aragón
    Orquesta Aragón was formed on 30 September 1939, by Orestes Aragón Cantero in Cienfuegos, Cuba. The band originally had the name Ritmica 39, then Ritmica Aragón before settling on its final form. Though they did not create the Cha-cha-cha, they were arguably the best charanga in Cuba during 1950s...

  • El Barrio del Pilar by Orquesta Broadway
  • Bodas de Oro by Cheo Belen Puig

Countless other songs use this rhythm.

There is also the bolero
Bolero is a form of slow-tempo Latin music and its associated dance and song. There are Spanish and Cuban forms which are both significant and which have separate origins.The term is also used for some art music...

 rhythm, which goes 1-2-3 1-2 1-2-3. Being very similar to the marcha, it involves a minimum of two congas and can be heard on:
  • Buena Vista Social Club by Buena Vista Social Club
    Buena Vista Social Club
    The Buena Vista Social Club was a members club in Havana, Cuba that held dances and musical activities, becoming a popular location for musicians to meet and play during the 1940s...

  • Melodia del Rio by Ruben González
  • Besame Mucho by Andrea Bocelli
    Andrea Bocelli
    Andrea Bocelli, is an Italian tenor, multi-instrumentalist and classical crossover artist. Born with poor eyesight, he became blind at the age of twelve following a soccer accident....

  • La Puerta by Luis Miguel

More complex rhythms can be heard in the music of Santería
Santería is a syncretic religion of West African and Caribbean origin influenced by Roman Catholic Christianity, also known as Regla de Ocha, La Regla Lucumi, or Lukumi. Its liturgical language, a dialect of Yoruba, is also known as Lucumi....

 and Abakua
Abakua or Abakuá is an Afro-Cuban men's initiatory fraternity, or secret society, which originated from fraternal associations in the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon...

 rituals, many of which also apply to the bata drums, such as Guarapachangueo and Chacha-lokafun. In Cuba, variants of Guaguanco, Bembe, and Abakua change from province to province, so there is no true stating to what is or isn't correct.


The merengue
Merengue music
Merengue is a type of music and dance from the Dominican Republic. It is popular in the Dominican Republic and all over Latin America. Its name is Spanish, taken from the name of the meringue, a dessert made from whipped egg whites and sugar...

 rhythm, used in orchestral merengue, goes 1 2-1-2. It can also be heard as 1-2-1-2 1-2-1-2-1-2. Essentially, it is the rhythm of the tambora
Tambora may refer to:* In music:**Tanpura, an instrument used in Indian classical music for continuous production of consonating reference notes **Tambora , an Afro-Caribbean percussion instrument...

 applied to conga. This can be heard on Elvis Crespo
Elvis Crespo
Elvis Crespo , is a Puerto Rican-American Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning Merengue singer.-Early years:Crespo was born in New York City and was named "Elvis" after Elvis Presley...

's Suavemente
Suavemente (song)
"Suavemente" is a song recorded and composed by Puerto Rican-American Elvis Crespo on his first solo album, Suavemente, which followed his departure from Grupo Manía. Released as the lead single, Suavemente reached #1 on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks on May 16, 1998 and remained atop the chart...

and Grupo Mania
Grupo Manía
Grupo Manía is a popular merengue group from Puerto Rico that released its debut album in 1993. The group was formed by brothers Héctor, Edwin and Oscar Serrano together with Alfred Cotto in the early 90s...

's Me Miras y Te Miro. Originally, this rhythm was derived from the trap drumming of African slaves from various animist religions. In merengue tipico the rhythm is usually more complex and less standardized; it can range from simply hitting the conga on a fourth beat to playing full patterns that mark the time.

The rhythm of Palos is also representative of what we can call Afro-Dominican music. The drums are made out of hollowed-out tree trunks, and they are used both for secular and religious music in Santo Domingo and Haiti. The drums are called palos (alcahuete, palo mayor and adulon); the balsie is another drum which is played with both the feet and the hands; the player sits on it and uses a friction technique called 'arrugao'. Panderos are also used in Dominican folk music, like Congos, Salve and Palos. The Dominican version of the 'clave' is 'la canoita', which are two sticks which are struck against each other, and one of them has a handle. In the Gaga they also use palo drums and in the rhythm called Palo de Muerto, which is played when a member of the cofradia or brotherhood dies. The rhythm of palos is played throughout the Dominican Republic and is the national dance of the country. This music was suppressed and persecuted during Trujillo's rule due to social and racial discrimination.


The cumbia
Cumbia is a music genre popular across Latin America. The cumbia originated in the Caribbean coast of Colombia, where it is associated with an eponymous dance and has since spread as far as Mexico and Argentina...

 rhythm, simple and slowly played, goes 1-2-2-1, also heard as 1-2-1-2. It can be heard in Fito Olivares's Mosaico Fiestero and La Cumbia Sampuesana y La Cumbia Cienaguera by Ancieto Molino y Los was an important thing to know

Other genres

There are many other kinds of rhythms for the conga. It is constantly applied in new genres of music, therefore taking up the rhythms of that specific style, such as punta
Punta is a Garifuna music and dance style performed at celebrations and festive occasions. Contemporary punta, including Belizean punta rock, arose in the last thirty years of the twentieth century in Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. It also has a following in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Southern Mexico...

, reggaeton
Reggaeton is a form of Puerto Rican and Latin American urban and Caribbean music. After its mainstream exposure in 2004, it spread to North American, European and Asian audiences. Reggaeton originated in Puerto Rico but is also has roots from Reggae en Español from Panama and Puerto Rico and...

, Brazilian forms such as samba
Samba is a Brazilian dance and musical genre originating in Bahia and with its roots in Brazil and Africa via the West African slave trade and African religious traditions. It is recognized around the world as a symbol of Brazil and the Brazilian Carnival...

 and bossa nova
Bossa nova
Bossa nova is a style of Brazilian music. Bossa nova acquired a large following in the 1960s, initially consisting of young musicians and college students...

, and even reggae
Reggae is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. While sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady.Reggae is based...

, funk
Funk is a music genre that originated in the mid-late 1960s when African American musicians blended soul music, jazz and R&B into a rhythmic, danceable new form of music. Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground...

, go-go, and country music.


Conga drums are tunable to different notes. The original drums were tuned by adjusting knots and tension ropes on the drumhead, or, where the drum-heads were tacked or nailed to the top of the shell, by careful heating of the head. Modern congas use a screw-and-lug tension head system which makes them easier to tune (or detune) this modern type of tension system is attributed to Carlos "Patato" Valdes a popular Cuban Conguero. As was discussed above, terminology for the drums varies. Here, the naming system used is a composite of those mentioned before with those currently in use by major conga manufacturers. The drums are discussed in order from largest to smallest; the sizes of the drumheads given vary considerably by manufacturer, model, and style.
  • The supertumba can be as large as 14 inches across (35.5 cm).
  • The tumba is typically 12 to 12.5 inches across (30.5 to 31.8 cm).
  • The conga is typically 11.5 to 12 inches across (29.2 to 30.5 cm).
  • The quinto is typically around 11 inches across (about 28 cm).
  • The requinto can be smaller than 10 inches across (24.8 cm).
  • The ricardo can be as small as 9 inches across (22.9 cm). Since this drum is typically played while hanging from a shoulder strap, it is considerably shorter and narrower than a traditional conga.

Tuning Systems

Congas, being percussive instruments, do not have to be tuned
Musical tuning
In music, there are two common meanings for tuning:* Tuning practice, the act of tuning an instrument or voice.* Tuning systems, the various systems of pitches used to tune an instrument, and their theoretical bases.-Tuning practice:...

 to any particular note in purely percussive settings. However, when playing with harmonic
In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches , or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic...

 instruments, they may be tuned to specific notes.
Congas are often tuned using the open tone (see above). In general, the particular note will depend on the make, model, and size of the conga drum. The drum should be tuned so that the bass tone resonates, the open tone rings, and the slap pierces through the musical mix. If the tuning is too loose, the bass and slap tones will sound "flabby"; too tight, and the drums will sound unnatural and "pinched." With a single drum, it is easy to tighten the drum until it makes a pleasing sound and then tighten a little more to reach a uniform desired pitch. It is very important to ensure that tuning is uniform around the drumhead, which can be checked by placing one finger pad in the center of the head and tapping the head near the edge above each lug location to detect any change, adjusting as necessary. Uniform tightness will help "let the drum speak."

Another important consideration is that head tension can greatly impact the ease or unease of the player, and generally a looser drumhead can lead to hand injury more than a tighter one, because a looser drumhead has less rebound and more muffling effect (hence potentially bruising joints and bones under spirited playing). Also, producing a crisp slap tone is nearly impossible on a loose head. During tuning it is suggested to "let the drum speak" and to conform tuning reasonably closely to the natural resonance (pitch) that the cavity of the drum interior presents. This resonance can be heard by singing or playing loud notes near the drum opening (this is true of tuning any drum) and noticing which pitch decays slowest (that will either be the fundamental [resonant] frequency or one of its simple overtones).

When two or more drums are used, there is a potential for more variation of which notes are chosen, however tuning between or during compositions is rare in live performance. With only two drums, it is common to find them tuned a perfect fourth
Perfect fourth
In classical music from Western culture, a fourth is a musical interval encompassing four staff positions , and the perfect fourth is a fourth spanning five semitones. For example, the ascending interval from C to the next F is a perfect fourth, as the note F lies five semitones above C, and there...

 apart (the same interval used in "Here Comes the Bride
Bridal Chorus
The "Bridal Chorus" "Treulich geführt", from the 1850 opera Lohengrin, by German composer Richard Wagner, is a march played for the bride's entrance at many formal weddings throughout the Western world...

") as is the tradition in western classical music for the timpani. Having three drums (typically the tumba, conga, and quinto) invites experimentation and individual customization. Some congueros like using the interval
Interval (music)
In music theory, an interval is a combination of two notes, or the ratio between their frequencies. Two-note combinations are also called dyads...

s of a major chord
Major chord
In music theory, a major chord is a chord having a root, a major third, and a perfect fifth. When a chord has these three notes alone, it is called a major triad...

 (e.g. F, A, C). Some players use the second inversion
Inversion (music)
In music theory, the word inversion has several meanings. There are inverted chords, inverted melodies, inverted intervals, and inverted voices...

 of a major chord (e.g. G, C, E); and some prefer a major second
Major second
In Western music theory, a major second is a musical interval spanning two semitones, and encompassing two adjacent staff positions . For example, the interval from C to D is a major second, as the note D lies two semitones above C, and the two notes are notated on adjacent staff postions...

between the quinto and conga, with a perfect 4th descending to the tumba. Raul Rekow of Santana often plays five conga drums and tunes them to the opening phrase of a Latin tune.

External links

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