Facts About Bongo Drums

By Carl Harper

If you are interested in learning how to play the bongos or are just intrigued by how the bongos are formed and used, knowing the basic facts about the drums are essential. They developed in Cuba about 200 years ago and were initially played in Salsa music. Over time they have become an international instrument and are used in multiple types of genres in numerous countries and cultures. The two-drum hand-played instrument can sit in your lap or on a stand, and can be expressed as a solo instrument or can accompany a band.

Basics

The bongo drums are a percussive instrument that is generally used in Latin, Salsa and any other type of music that has a Latin America feel to it. They are two cylindrical drums that are joined in the middle by a wooden brace and are typically held between the knees while being played. The bongos are portable, easy to manage, inexpensive, and project extremely well when tuned up tightly.

Facts

The drum heads on the bongos are usually made of animal skins but are sometimes made of plastic. The body of the drums are metal, wood and sometimes ceramic. One drum is bigger than the other. The bigger drums is called a "hembra" and means "Female" in Spanish. The smaller of the two drums is called a "macho" and means "Male" in Spanish.

History

Bongo drumming historically relates to "Changui and Son," a well-known Cuban style of music. Changui and Son first came into existence in eastern Cuba in the late 1800s when slavery was abolished. The drum heads on the bongos were initially tacked and tuned with a heat source. But in the 1940s, metal tuning lugs were created to support faster, more efficient and easier tuning.

Popular Bongoceros of the Past

With the new developments of the bongos in the 1940s, popular bongoceros developed as well. The term "bongocero" meant that a bongo player had mastered the instrument and had the ability to teach others. Jack Constanzo was a bongocero who became a teacher of several Hollywood movie stars, including James Dean and Marlon Brando. Jose Eladio Amat, also known as "the teacher," is still currently a teacher at "ENA" (Escuela Nacional de Artes de La Habana) and tours with his band "Sin Palabras."

Effect

Bongos have brought a worldwide effect on music and the types of genres of music. Other drums such as the congas (two tall-like drums that are similar to the bongos but are bigger and deeper in size) and the timbales (snare-like drums that are tuned up tight without the snares) have had their popularity increased with the addition of bongos. These three drums (congas, bongos and timbales) are typically all played together in a percussion set. The bongos and congas have expanded to other parts of the world including Morocco where the drum heads are made out of goat hides.