The conga belongs to the percussion family. It’s a single-headed drum that originated in Africa. However, it was only when Latin music, namely mambo and salsa, became popular in the United States around the 1930s, when the conga drum started to receive a lot of attention.
This instrument arrived in Cuba as a result of slave trading. Thousands of slaves arrived coming from the African Bantu-speaking Congo region during the 17th and 18th centuries. When slavery was abolished in Cuba towards the end of the nineteenth century, a wave of cultural interaction and growth erupted. Rumba and other styles of drum-centric music began to emerge. The makta drum, a large, barrel-shaped drum used in private Bantu religious events, is the conga’s closest and most well-known predecessor.
Rumba style has its roots in the poorer urban areas of cities like Havana and Matanzas. It was the first established genre to specifically call for a conga drum as part of its conventional instrumentation. This happened towards the end of the 19th century. The conga drum became an established element of the ensemble format used to play the Cuban dance genre known as Son in the 1930s. Then, it went on to have a huge influence on American Jazz music in the 1930s and 1940s. In some traditional styles, the drummer actually plays just conga. However, in other situations, the instrument often appears played in groups of two to four.
Most modern congas have a screw-tensioned drumhead and a staved wooden or fiberglass shell. From the bottom of the shell to the head, a typical conga measures 75 cm. The drums can be played from a seated position. It can also sit on a rack or stand so that the player can play while standing. While they originated in Cuba, their assimilation into other countries’ folk music has resulted in a wide range of terminology for the instrument and musicians.
Tuning and execution of the conga drum
Conga drums are classified by size, which corresponds to pitch. The larger drumheads have a lower pitch and vice versa. Drums tune by changing knots and tension ropes on the drumhead, or more often, by carefully heating the drumhead where it connects to the top of the shell. In purely percussive settings, congas do not need to tune to any particular note. When playing harmonic instruments, however, that might be necessary. For this, the open tone is frequently used. The bottom tone, on the other hand, should resonate, the open tone should ring, while the slap should cut through the musical ensemble.
The bass and slap tones will sound “flabby” if the tuning is too loose. On the other hand, the drums will sound unnatural and “pinched” if the tuning is too tight. Another factor to consider is that head tension has a significant impact on the player’s comfort level. A looser drumhead is more likely to induce hand injury than a tighter one. This happens because a looser drumhead has less rebound and greater muffling effect, hence, potentially bruising joints and bones under energetic playing.