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Conga Drum

Carlos 'Patato' Valdes ~ Master Conguero, 1926 - Nov. 11, 2007

Who is this small live wire guy up on the stage, almost one size with his instruments, who is dancing to his own solo in front of the congas, behind them and on top of them, bringing them to sing in voices no other conga player is able to create, luring them to tell tales full of melodies and poignancy, seducing them, and all the time displaying facial mimics neither Jerry Lewis nor Fernandel equal?

The man is Carlos 'Patato' Valdes, born in Cuba in 1926, living in New York City since 1954. Not only Tito Puente calls his "the greatest conguero alive today."

 What else do we know from this man, except that he taught Brigitte Bardot successfully how to dance a true cha-cha-cha in the French movie "And God Created Woman"?

Patato is not as famous as is, for example, Mongo Santamaria, since until now he has never published records under his own name, but he is more influential than any other conguero, based on the fact that he invented the tunable conga, a revolutionary step in music history and the most natural thing for today's players: Formerly, the traditional conga consisted in a wooden body with a nailed-on drum skin. It used to be tuned by holding a candle beneath the skin, but results were not very satisfactory as the tension of the drum skin slackened as soon as the skin cooled down again. It was Patato's idea to fix the skin to a metal ring which, connected a various points with the conga body, could be stretched and loosened with the help of a square box wrench, thus enabling the musician to tune his instrument to specific pitches. Consequently, it was now possible to hit each half step of an octave playing on only one complete set of three congas. This was the birth of modern conga playing, initiated by Patato's unique melodic style of employing multiple conga drums and using them as a melody-creating instrument, just as a piano player or a horn player would. The virtuosity and popularity of music enabled by the congas' entering pop and rock music is so far a part of history.

Patato had his invention patented, the company Latin Percussion Inc. manufactured the instrument. Latin Percussion's "Patato Model" is the top star of their product family.  Patato's conga type is now used by hundreds of groups from Santana to the Rolling Stones, and by a lot of well-known congueros, many of them being his students in former times.

Since the 1950s Patato is among the congueros that are in highest demand in the Latin Music and jazz world. He played, toured and recorded together with singer Miguelito Valdes, Perez Prado, Beny More, 'Cachao' Lopez, with Tito Puento, Machito, Herbie Mann, Kenny Dorham, Cal Tjader, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and other, also with Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, accompanying both on extended tours throughout Europe, and with the late Mario Bauza.  Patato acted in and composed the title song of the Bill Cosby Show. In 1991 he contributed with others to the movie soundtrack of "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love". Patato is the leader of his own band 'Afrojazzia', which toured Europe in the spring of 1994 for the first time ever.

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