Latin American music would be nothing without Conga drums. The distinctive sound of these drums brings a sense of a culture that has helped define drumming, from the roots in African culture to the presence in all types of music today.
Conga drums are typically played in pairs, but can be found in many different configurations, depending on the taste of the drummer. Many times, Congas are part of an intricate set of hand drums and percussion, including bongo drums, a guiro, claves and timbales. Even with the standard “pairing” of Congas, there are three variations of these drums available: the quinto, the conga and the tumbadora. Qunito congas are the smallest Conga drums with the highest pitch. This sound is perfect for accents, to mimic bongos or for a more melodious tone overall. The Conga drum is the mid-tone variation in the set, and is able to reach many of the tones of the quinto, while complimenting the low tones of the tumbadora. Deep bass tones are best played with the tumbadora, and may be the most recognized sound of the Conga drums.
Playing the Congas requires little more than a spirit of fun and adventure. Most Congas can be attached to drum stands, and the Quinto is perfectly suited to being strapped to the drummer for a more portable rhythm. Congas are played with the bare hands, creating sounds on the rim, center of the drum head, and parts between with the fingers or palm of the hand. Depending on the materials used in the construction of the Congas, the range of sound can vary from warm to crisp. Congas are available in wood or fiberglass shells, as well as animal skin or synthetic skin heads.
Keeping Congas tuned is one of the most important maintenance tasks that will prolong the life of the drums, especially those with animal skin drum heads, as they are more susceptible to weather and other environmental factors. Most Conga players agree that there is not just one “right” pitch, but that tuning the 2- or 3-piece set within a fourth of each other will produce the best sound. Tightening the rim around the drum head during tuning in a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion will help ensure a consistent tone over the entire drum head.
Whether as a professional or new Conga drummer, the drum represents a long history and has made its place in modern music today. As a growing movement in the music industry around the world, Latin-inspired sound is only beginning to make its mark in our lives, and the Congas have only begun to dominate the world of rhythm.