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For the music genre and ensemble, see Conga (music). Conga_sentence_0

For other uses, see Conga (disambiguation). Conga_sentence_1


Other namesConga_header_cell_0_1_0 TumbadoraConga_cell_0_1_1
ClassificationConga_header_cell_0_2_0 PercussionConga_cell_0_2_1
Hornbostel–Sachs classificationConga_header_cell_0_3_0 211.221.1

(Directly struck membranophones in which the end without a membrane is open)Conga_cell_0_3_1

DevelopedConga_header_cell_0_4_0 Late 19th century or early 20th century in CubaConga_cell_0_4_1
Related instrumentsConga_header_cell_0_5_0

The conga, also known as tumbadora, is a tall, narrow, single-headed drum from Cuba. Conga_sentence_2

Congas are staved like barrels and classified into three types: quinto (lead drum, highest), tres dos or tres golpes (middle), and tumba or salidor (lowest). Conga_sentence_3

Congas were originally used in Afro-Cuban music genres such as conga (hence their name) and rumba, where each drummer would play a single drum. Conga_sentence_4

Following numerous innovations in conga drumming and construction during the mid-20th century, as well as its internationalization, it became increasingly common for drummers to play two or three drums. Conga_sentence_5

Congas have become a popular instrument in many forms of Latin music such as son (when played by conjuntos), descarga, Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa, songo, merengue and Latin rock. Conga_sentence_6

Although the exact origins of the conga drum are unknown, researchers agree that it was developed by Cuban people of African descent during the late 19th century or early 20th century. Conga_sentence_7

Its direct ancestors are thought to be the yuka and makuta (of Bantu origin) and the bembé drums (of Yoruba origin). Conga_sentence_8

In Cuba and Latin America, congas are primarily played as hand drums. Conga_sentence_9

In Trinidadian calypso and soca, congas are sometimes struck with mallets, while in the Congos, they are often struck with one hand and one mallet. Conga_sentence_10

Characteristics Conga_section_0

Most modern congas have a staved wooden or fiberglass shell and a screw-tensioned drumhead. Conga_sentence_11

Since the 1950, congas are usually played in sets of two to four, except for traditional rumba and conga, in which each drummer plays one conga. Conga_sentence_12

The drums are played with the fingers and palms of the hand. Conga_sentence_13

Typical congas stand approximately 75 centimetres (30 in) from the bottom of the shell to the head. Conga_sentence_14

The drums may be played while seated. Conga_sentence_15

Alternatively, the drums may be mounted on a rack or stand to permit the player to play while standing. Conga_sentence_16

While they originated in Cuba, their incorporation into the popular and folk music of other countries has resulted in diversification of terminology for the instruments and the players. Conga_sentence_17

In Cuba, congas are called tumbadoras. Conga_sentence_18

Conga players are called congueros, while rumberos refers to those who dance following the path of the players. Conga_sentence_19

The term "conga" was popularized in the 1930s, when Latin music swept the United States. Conga_sentence_20

Cuban son and New York jazz fused together to create what was then termed mambo, but later became known as salsa. Conga_sentence_21

In that same period, the popularity of the Conga Line helped to spread this new term. Conga_sentence_22

Desi Arnaz also played a role in the popularization of conga drums. Conga_sentence_23

However, the drum he played (which everyone called a conga drum at the time) was similar to the type of drum known as bokú used in his hometown, Santiago de Cuba. Conga_sentence_24

The word conga came from the rhythm la conga used during carnaval (carnival) in Cuba. Conga_sentence_25

The drums used in carnaval could have been referred to as tambores de conga since they played the rhythm la conga, and thus translated into English as conga drums. Conga_sentence_26

Types of drum Conga_section_1

Conga drums are classified according to their size, which correlates to their pitch: larger drumheads have a lower pitch and vice versa. Conga_sentence_27

Originally, drums were tuned by adjusting knots and tension ropes on the drumhead, or, more commonly, where the drum-heads were tacked or nailed to the top of the shell, by careful heating of the head. Conga_sentence_28

Modern congas, developed in the early 1950s, use a screw-and-lug tension head system, which makes them easier to tune (or detune). Conga_sentence_29

This modern type of tension system was pioneered in Cuba by Carlos "Patato" Valdés and in the United States by Cándido Camero. Conga_sentence_30

Historically, terminology for the drums varies between genres and countries. Conga_sentence_31

In ensembles that traditionally employ a large number of drums, such as comparsas and rumba groups, a detailed naming system is used, which has been taken up by major conga manufacturers. Conga_sentence_32

The drums are listed from largest to smallest (drumhead sizes vary considerably by manufacturer, model, and style): Conga_sentence_33


  • The supertumba or rebajador can be as large as 14 inches across (35.5 cm).Conga_item_0_0
  • The tumba or salidor is typically 12 to 12.5 inches across (30.5 to 31.8 cm).Conga_item_0_1
  • The conga or tres dos is typically 11.5 to 12 inches across (29.2 to 30.5 cm).Conga_item_0_2
  • The quinto is typically around 11 inches across (about 28 cm).Conga_item_0_3
  • The requinto can be smaller than 10 inches across (24.8 cm).Conga_item_0_4
  • The ricardo can be as small as 9 inches across (22.9 cm). Since this drum is typically played while hanging from a shoulder strap, it is considerably shorter and narrower than a traditional conga.Conga_item_0_5

In conjuntos that play son cubano, as well as in charangas and other ensembles where one or two congas were introduced to complement other rhythmic instruments, the drums are named like the bongos: macho (male) and hembra (female), for the higher and lower-pitched drums, respectively; an additional drum would be called tercera (third). Conga_sentence_34

These correspond to the tumba and conga in rumba ensembles. Conga_sentence_35

When the quinto is played by conjuntos it retains its name. Conga_sentence_36

Tuning Conga_section_2

Playing techniques Conga_section_3

Strokes Conga_section_4

There are four basic strokes in conga drumming: Conga_sentence_37


  • Open tone (tono abierto): played with the four fingers near the rim of the head, producing a clear resonant sound with a higher pitch than muffled and bass tones.Conga_item_1_6
  • Muffled, muted, closed of flesh tone (tono ahogado or apagado) or simply "muff": like the open tone, it is made by striking the drum with the four fingers, but holding the fingers against the head to muffle the tone. It can also be played with a cupped hand or the heel of the hand.Conga_item_1_7
  • Bass tone (tono bajo): played with the full palm, in a slightly cupped position, somewhat off center on the head. It produces a low muted sound.Conga_item_1_8
  • Slap tone (tono seco or tapado): the most difficult technique, producing a loud clear "popping" sound. The muted or pressed slap tone (toque tapado normal) involves playing an open tone while the other hand rests on the drumhead, which produces a higher pitch. There are open (tono tapado abierto) and half-open (tono tapado semi-abierto) variants, in which the playing hand briefly rests on the edge of the drumhead after the stroke, followed by another stroke with the other hand. When played at fast and short intervals, this is called floreo, which is often used to instill emotion in the dancers.Conga_item_1_9

Other strokes can be used to enhance the timbral palette of the instrument. Conga_sentence_38

They are not used by all drummers, but have become the hallmark of congeros such as Tata Güines. Conga_sentence_39


  • Touch or toe tone (toque de punta): as implied by the name, this tone is produced by just touching the fingers or heel of the palm to the drum head. It is possible to alternate a touch of the palm with a touch of the fingers in a maneuver called heel-toe (manoteo), which can be used to produce the conga equivalent of drumrolls.Conga_item_2_10
  • Nails stroke (toque de uñas): played with the tip of the nails, usually finger by finger in quick succession, starting with the pinky.Conga_item_2_11

Glissando and pitch bending Conga_section_5

The deslizado, moose call or glissando is done by rubbing the third finger, supported by the thumb, across the head of the drum. Conga_sentence_40

The finger is sometimes moistened with saliva or sweat, and sometimes a little coat of beeswax is put on the surface of the conga head to help make the sound. Conga_sentence_41

The moose call is also done on the bongos. Conga_sentence_42

To bend the pitch of the congas, a conguero sometimes uses his elbow to shift around on and apply pressure to different parts of the head; this causes the note to change. Conga_sentence_43

This is not a traditional stroke, but it is common in modern salsa and rumba. Conga_sentence_44

Rhythms Conga_section_6

See also Conga_section_7


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