Rooted in mystery, bongos are thought to have originated in Africa and brought to Latin America during the slave trade, after which they became a staple in Mamba, Conga and Salsa music. Today, American-born artists have adapted the sound of the bongos into almost every genre of music, bringing a historic instrument and method of communication into the present, where it can be enjoyed by musicians, fans, drum circle participants and the random Beatnik poet.
The list of famous Bongoceros, or bongo players, continues to evolve as drummers and percussionists add the instrument to their musical tool belt. In fact, it may be difficult to find a modern drummer who does not have experience playing the bongos. One of the most noted Bongoceros is Jack Costanzo, or, "Mr. Bongo," who played at nightclubs featuring noted celebrities such as Peggy Lee, Betty Grable, Tony Curtis, Xavier Cugat, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye, and Eddie Fisher and is credited with introducing the bongos to American jazz music. Costanzo's last album, Chicken and Rice, was released in 2006.
Frank Colón was born in Washington, D.C., but moved to Puerto Rico as a young child where he began his music instruction. It was not until his college years that he began to seriously study percussion, and after moving to New York City in 1972, Colón began to play professionally in an African-Cuban drum ensemble. Colón has played with artists such as George Clinton, Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock and Mary J. Blige, but may be best known for his 12 year stint with The Manhattan Transfer.
Female drummers are a minority, and in the world of Latin percussion, the gender restriction may be even more evident. Bobbye Hall, however, may be the exception to this rule. Hall began playing drums in jazz clubs in Detroit and was quickly added to the powerful roster of Motown musicians during the 1960s. She toured with Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks, played on Marvin Gaye's iconic "Let's Get it on," track, appeared on over 22 songs featured on Billboard’s top 100, and contributed to dozens of other songs, compilations and tours. Hall's presence in modern jazz, soul, R&B and rock is an inspiration to all drummers, regardless of gender, around the world.
From the Mamba to The Doobie Brothers, bongos and the famous artists who play these time-honored drums are a formidable presence in all genres of music, the world over. From Latin beats and rhythms to modern-day rock, jazz, soul and more, the bongos have continued to prove an instrumental versatility that transcends time, genre and performer.