The Conga Drum
The Conga Drum
The Conga drum has been referred to in several terms according to people’s origins and culture. It is one of the most popular musical instruments worldwide yet the least understood in terms of cultural and historical significance. In the recent years, the conga drums have begun to gain recognition as a popular musical instrument (Warden 7). However, they have also been taken for granted over the past several years, with some musical precursors viewing it as a mere accessory in the musical world, instead of percussion with great musical, cultural, and historical significance. It is therefore important to understand its origins in order to appreciate this musical instrument and its true functions.
The drum has been referred to in many terms, though the most common name for it in the United States is the Conga Drum. Many speculations as to the origin of the drum have been presented. Early popularization of the drums began n the early 20th century in the United States. As an instrument whose origins were traced back in the African and Caribbean cultures, the drum was known as the ngoma, tumbadora, and conga drums. The drums were also made in different shapes and sizes, and consequently named after their specific functions. By the 1940s, the tumbadoras began to develop a significant niche in the Cuban music. Popularity of the drums increased further in the 1950s and became adopted into Latin Music. By the 1970s, institutions of higher learning had begun to embrace the tumbadora as part of their musical instruments to learn.
The conga drum is known for several purposes according to the culture that adopted it. Yet in the recent years, their historical and cultural significance across societies has not been fully appreciated. The word “conga” originated from the Cuban rhythm of music. The rhythm applied this type of drum during musical festivals and processions as part of their traditions. The name was further adopted to mean the actual drum. However, the Cuban people originally referred to the drum as the Tumbadora (Warden 9). People from North America were able to travel to the Caribbean regions and pick up some of the musical and cultural aspects of the Cuban people. Thus, the beginning of popularization of the drum began in the United States.
The name Conga used to refer to the drum has been a source of controversy especially among the precursors of the music industry. With the exact origin of the drum unknown, the conga named was possibly adopted from the Bantu natives that ended up in the Caribbean regions after the period of slave trade in the 19th century. Opposer to this theory claim that the name of the drum was derived from the country Congo, from which it originated. As for the name Tumbadora, the name originated from Latin America. As such, the theories were reduced to mere speculation.
During the early 20th century, the tumbadora was adopted by people from the Caribbean regions and further modified to better suit functions. This included changing the shape and sizes of the tumbadoras. They were used in performances by musicians where the each type of tumbadora served a specific function. For instance, during rumbas, the tumbadora would often be referred to as the Salidor. In other public performances, the tumbadora would be called a quinto. Therefore, the significance of the Conga drum was evident in the way the native caribbeans refashioned it to suit their different ceremonies.
Modernization began in the mid 1950s when the drum was adopted into other cultures. The most important modification made in the conga drum was the stave modification. The adjustments were made in order to tell them apart from their African equivalents. The reason for this was to ensure that although the drums were banned by the Spanish colonial rule, their cultural heritage would still be appreciated by the Caribbean people (Orovio 23). Thus, it is important to note the radical steps taken by the Caribbean natives of African origin to preserve the culture of the conga drums.
In the early 1930s, a famous popular musician known as Arsenio Rodriguez, who traced his roots from Africa, was best known for his popularization of the African Drums. He would have his brother Israel Rodriguez play the tumbadora during his major performances. This was a huge contributor to their popularization in the United States. In the 1950s, the popular group Guaguanco Matanceroand Ramon “Mongo” was instrumental in providing nationwide recognition to the conga drum in the United States. At that time not enough research was dedicated to the origin of the drums, nevertheless they gained rapid recognition not only in the United States but also in the rest of the Latin American and Caribbean regions.
The Conga drum has held intercultural and interregional importance over the past several decades. Despite it being one of the most popular musical instruments worldwide, it has been the least understood in terms of cultural and historical significance. In the recent years, the conga drums have begun to gain recognition as a popular musical instrument. However, they have also been taken for granted over the past several years, with some musical precursors viewing it as a mere accessory in the musical world, instead of percussion with great musical, cultural, and historical significance. As an instrument that has been adopted by different cultures, it is critical to recognize their significance.
Orovio, Helio. Cuban Music from a to Z. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Print.
Warden, Nolan. A History of the Conga Drum. 2005. Print
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