These instruments are named depending on the
region where they are used. In Central America they are called
manual drums, “congas” or “tumbadoras”, but the most popular name is
“Congas”.They have a low tone and they are used to execute more
powerful music. Besides, the rhythmical figures generally imitate a
bass phrase. There are different kind of congas, the most primitive
ones are from Africa, they are made of wood from an empty trunk
which has a leather drumhead. The leather can come from antelopes,
leopards, monkeys, giraffes or gazelles. You can stick the leather
on the trunk, tie it or pierce it using wooden nails. The sound is
emitted when you beat the leather with your hands which produces a
resonance because of the air going out through the leather extreme
of the trunk. There are two ways of playing this drums :sitting down
on the floor taking care to bend it to make the sound go out through
the bottom of the instrument or being hang on your body by a belt.
One of the most characteristic is Atumpan’s instrument which is used
by the Ashanti to send messages. In Uganda region we find the
Engalabi, Embutu and Omubala which are used in assembling of
counterpoint. Another modern kind of conga replaces the trunk by
hard wooden tables (called staves) the same that are used to make
barrels and they are put one next to the other and the leather is
stained by tacks nailed on the wood.
These types of drums are used in tribal dances from Africa, Central
America and Haiti.
The congas used by rock and roll, salsa and jazz groups nowadays,
have the same construction of those mentioned above (wooden tables)
but the leather is strained by metal tensors fixed on the conga body
at the lower extreme and on a metal ring on the top. This ring goes
round the piece of leather and it allows to change the tuning at any
moment. The leather generally comes from mules, horses or cows. Thin
leather offers better tuning and a clear sound. Fat leather offers
durability, projection and high volume. Te newest model is the one
fiberglass piece with metal tensors and he advantage is that it has
a more brilliant sound.
The measures of the congas goes from 9 to 12 inches on their top
extreme and they are generally played by two or three. The smallest
one is called quinto, the medium one is called conga and he biggest
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The study of congas includes:
Advanced method of tumbadoras “Massai” by Daniel Mele.
Brief historical introduction.
Position to play them
Different type of beating:
open wide tone, simple low tone,
slap, palm beat, dark ring beat, ring beat, both hands roll, one
hand roll, appoggiatura, glisando and tremolo.
quintillo, double time, sixteen notes triplet,
quarter notes triplet
odd meters: 5/8,7/8,11/8,13/8 and zorcico 10/8
Compound meters: 6/8,9/8,12/8
Brasilian ,salsa, candombe,guaguanco, bomba,
cumbia, mazacote, guaracha, merengue, columbia, Cuban conga,
Ray Barretto solo
Three congas rhythm
Paradidles method and its techniques by Daniel Mele.
Accent method by C: Wilcoxon
Scores analysis, study and reading
Rhythms to accompany recorded music.
touches, Umbanda and Candomblé
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