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Conga Drum

History of Conga Drums


The conga drum originates from Africa.  The name conga  is probably derived from the name of it’s homeland, the Congolaise of Africa.  Nonetheless, the Conga is also called the Tumbadora. 

The conga is a descendant of a conical shaped drum of “Makuta”. 

The conga has gone through several changes in form and materials since it was originally created.  Today's congas are more rounded than its conical ancestor.  The conga was originally made from wood, but is available today in fiberglass as well. 

Conga heads were originally made from rawhide.  Rawhide is still the most popular material for heads, but today, synthetic heads, made of plastics & other materials, are also available.  

The skin heads of the original congas were nailed to the wooden shell; before each performance the nailed the heads where heated by a brazier to obtain the desired tension.  Today, the skin is held in place by a set of rings & tuning lugs, which also serve to adjust the tension. 

Three conga head sizes emerged from the conical African drum.

The name of the head sizes gives insight to that drum’s functions.  For instance, even today, the names describe the drums pitch, tempos & rhythms it will play.

Quinto, Conga & Tumbadora or Tumba are the three sizes. 

The Quinto is the high pitched, small head conga.  It is the solo drum, played by soloists.

The Quinto is as the singer of the band.  The quinto is used to drum a melody; to accent; to sing, laugh & cry. 

The Conga is the mid-range, medium head conga.  It plays the middle parts of three-part rhythms.  

The Conga is the most versatile size.  Although it is theoretically intended for the middle drum parts, in practice it is also used to play high drum & low drum parts.  The Conga size is sometimes referred to as the Segundo. 

The Tumba is the low pitched, large head conga.  The Tumba plays the low drum rhythm parts. Tumba is short for Tumbadora.  The Tumba is sometimes referred to as the Salidor. 

When the conga was first becoming popular congeros (conga players) would play only one drum at a time.  Hence the rhythm parts were strongly assigned and the players were experts in their parts. 

As players developed and mastered conga playing techniques the music and rhythm arrangements grew with increasing complexity.  Within this development the congeros began playing two & three drums simultaneously.

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