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Ray Barretto is one of the most recognized conga players. He's been called the Godfather of Latin Jazz or the King of Hard Hands. During his career in New York and beyond, he not only provided conga accompanying to bands like the Rolling Stones, he also scored his own hits such as "El Watusi." Barretto was an accomplished recording artist, and eventually went on to win a Grammy for one of his albums. His career spanned both the creation of a fusion band as well as multiple solo efforts. The unique style that Barretto displayed when playing the congas translated into his future influence over both Latin jazz and salsa.
If you enjoy the soothing beats of two or three congos at one time, you have Candido Camero to thank. Camero hailed from Cuba and moved to New York to work with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie. Originally congueros played one drum at a time, but Candido choose to play two or three congas, along with a side bongo. Candido is still wowing the crowds at the age of 88, as he tours New York.
Armando Peraza is a Cuban percussionist with long time ties to modern music through Carlos Santana and jazz pianist George Shearing. Peraza was a young man with no experience when, looking to fulfill a spot in a band that needed a conga player, he taught himself the conga in one afternoon. Peraza is a long-standing member of the group Santana, and has also played with Peggy Lee and Eric Clapton.
Carlos 'Patato' Valdes was not so much a recording artist as he was an instrumental part in creating the modern conga drum. Valdes pioneered the metal ring that is affixed to the body of the conga, which allowed the user to tighten the skin in order to provide proper tuning of the instrument. His invention was patented under the name "Patato" model, and is used by modern bands to this day. Created from fiberglass, the Patato design is for a tall drum with a wide belly and small bottom. Valdes is also known for pioneering a melodic drum sound.
All of these players have mastered the art of creating conga rhythms that entrance the listener.
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