Do you remember the show “I Love Lucy”? When Desi Arnez (Ricky Ricardo) would get out his drum and sing “Babalu,” it just made me want to Conga all day long. The conga is a style of line dance using a certain Cuban rhythm (say, “Conga, conga, con---ga!). In fact, this rhythm is the false namesake of the drum that Arnez used. What we know in America as the Conga drum is technically referred to as the tumbadora (toom-bah-DORA) in Cuba, a name influenced from the Latin musical style called rumba. Yet others claim that the name Conga originates as feminized version of the African country, Congo is yet another opinion of this drums roots. After slavery was abolished in Cuba, Afro-Cubans dispersed to the country land. These people spoke the Bantu language that referred to all drums as ngoma, but two specific predecessors to the conga drum are Makutah (mah-ku-tah), the Yuka (yu- cah) and the Bembe. All of these drums are important to Afro-Cuban culture and used in celebrations and secret ceremonies. These drums were probably made from barrel like wooden planks with mule or cowhide for the membrane drumhead. For the 4 years of Spanish colonial rule, from 1898-1902, African drums were outlawed. To get around this obstacle, they made the drums from whole pieces of wood instead, thus forging the image of the conga.
The development of this drum has evolved over the last century and influenced by Cuba’s rich history. The tumbadora was brought to the United States in the early 20th century. Desi Arnez claims to have brought ‘conga’ (the dance and the drum) to the states, but scholars credit a Cuban bandleader, Machito (Frank Grillo) as the first to use the tumbadora drum.
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