The history of the bongo drums can
be traced to the Cuban music styles known as Changüi
These styles first began to develop in eastern
Cuba (Oriente province) in the late 1800's around the time
that slavery was abolished. Initially, the bongo had heads
which were tacked and tuned with a heat source. By the 1940's
metal tuning lugs were developed to facilitate easier tuning.
Some of the first recordings of the bongo can be heard performed
by the groups
Sexteto Habanero, Sexteto Boloņa and
Septeto Nacional. These and other early recordings have
been reissued on several record labels including Tumbao
example 1 The group is the Soneros, from
Matanzas. Notice that the bongocero has the big drum on
the left side, unlike modern style. Bongos were used before
congas or tumbadoras in this type of music.
Mr. Victor "Papo
"Sterling, an avid bongocero and OMO AŅA sworn
bata player (some of his work can be heard on the Recording
"Santissimo" by Emilio Barretto & Orlando
"Puntillo" Rios) states: "It's believed that
Bongos as we know them today evolved from the Abakua Drum
trio "bonko" and it's lead drum "Bonko Enchemi"
These drums are still a fundamental part of the Abakua Religion
in Cuba, which is still only accessible to the Initiates.
Even today, these drums look much like the bongos we know,
if they were joined with a wooden peck in the middle."
More research is underway. Can the bongos be traced back
to Africa? What is the true relationship between the Afro
Cuban bongos and the ceramic Morroccan bongos?
The Bongo Page
devoted to the art
of bongo drums, bongo drumming, and bongo drummers..
five key bongo drum was made by the late master bongocero and
percussion instrument maker Carlos E. Landaeta (Pan con Queso)
also one of the pillars of the Venezuelan group Sonero Clasico
del Caribe. Thanks to Ivan Caceres of Puerto Rico for this photo.
Bongo drums are
two cylindrical single headed drums, joined in the middle, and
normally held between the knees.
enjoyed a huge wave of popularity from the nineteen forties through
the late fifties and into the early sixties, when bongocero
Jack Costanzo became the teacher to a number of Hollywood movie
stars, including James Dean and Marlon Brando. Other popular bongoceros
at this time included Armando Peraza, and Jose Mangual Sr., among
others. for a more complete list of notable bongoceros down through
the years, see our List of Bongoceros.
They are most often used these days in a range of
popular styles of Latin music known collectively (and a bit misleadingly)
For the casual 21st century multicultural user or
drum circle goer, they have not really caught on completely, but
they are portable, inexpensive and generally easy to express oneself
on. They also project well when tuned up tight. The main impediment
to beginners on bongo drums is the learning curve regarding way
they are held between the knees. Rather than horizontal pressure,
the drums rest on the calves, the drummer squeezing only lightly,
to keep them in place. Once you get the hang of it, they are quite
Then you can check out Pablo Rosario on Bongos one
- Es en Espanol, y es verdad que this will give you a good excuse
to work on your Spanish. Pablo teaches a great deal in these two
free You Tube videos..Great Work, Sr. Rosario! Muchas Gracias!
The bongo drumming scene is JUMPING, up on the Web.
A users' group at Yahoo , the
Bongo Group, with over a thousand members, was founded
by avid bongoceros Zeno Okeanos and Matthew Dubuque, way back
in 2001, when Yahoo groups was new. A core of dedicated members
have nurtured it with loving care , and now, it is a thousand
bongoceros strong. Worth a look..
Martin Cohen, the founder of LP Percussion, has been right on
this scene for decades, and know dozens, if not hundreds of excellent
players, so his personal website, CONGAHEAD,
is one of the must-see sites for Latin Music.