Drums are probably one of the earliest instruments, used by primitive cultures thousands of years ago. Today drums are popular throughout the world, whether played alone or with an orchestra or band. The bongo drum is a good example of an instrument that has a long history, although it has changed over time and across different countries.
It is believed that the first bongo drums were used in Cuba during the late 19th century. They were used for the music styles called "changui" and "son." This music derives from both the African and Spanish cultures that lived in Cuba. It eventually evolved into today's salsa.
In the mid-1900s, the beatniks incorporated the bongos into their poetry and music. Many musicians became popular, such as "Mr. Bongo," or Jack Costanzo, who played with the well-known singer Nat King Cole. Bongos were also sold as children's instruments.
Bongo drums are normally made of two separate drums of different sizes that are attached to one another. The larger one is called a "hembra," the word for "female" in Spanish. The smaller drum is named "macho," the Spanish term for "male." The size of the drum heads range from 6 and 7 inches to 7 and 8 1/2 inches. Smaller drums for children are about 5 and 6 inches.
Over the years, the mix of African and Caribbean music and rhythm has become popular internationally. It has greatly influenced the musical style of jazz throughout the world. It has also led to many new popular dances, such as the mambo, rumba and salsa.
Bongo players normally hold the instruments between their legs. The macho leans against one thigh, and the hembra angles down against the opposite calf. Right-handed players put the bongos in a left-to-right position. Left-handed players find different ways to make the instrument comfortable. Players strike the drums with the pads of their fingertips.