The Conga Kings

The Conga Kings
Candido Camero

Candido Camero, the Havana-born 80-year old elder statesman of conga, is a living encyclopedia of the history of Cuban music. Born in La Habana's colorful El Cerro neighborhood, Candido has appeared on hundreds of albums, including more than 50 as bandleader. He has worked with almost all of the great jazz masters, including Clark Terry, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Mongo Santamaria, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, and Tito Puente

Candido's powerful style and technical flair enhance his obvious love for music. He began playing the bongos when he was child, and turned to the congas in 1940. By the time he was in his early teens, he was accomplished enough to work at Havana's legendary Tropicana nightclub and Cuba's leading radio station, CMQ. He came to the United States at age 25 with the fiery rumba dance team Carmen and Rolando and demonstrated an unheard-of conga technique: he kept a steady rhythm with one hand while improvising with the other, thus being the father of coordinated independence in Cuban drumming. This was also the first time anyone had ever played two congas simultaneously. As word of his new technique spread, Candido became in demand for jazz recordings. He also played with the legendary Machito and his Afro-Cuban Band and helped to pioneer the simultaneous use of multiple conga drums, as well as the fusion of Latin rhythms into jazz and mainstream American music.

In 1950, Candido demonstrated an even more spectacular innovation at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with the Puerto Rican pianist Joe Loco: he performed on three conga drums tuned to specific pitches so that he could play melodies like a pianist. Loco's famous recording of Tea for Two features Candido playing the entire melody on three congas and bongo. Thanks to Dizzy Gillespie's pioneering efforts in integrating congas into jazz bands, Candido performed throughout the 1950s as a featured soloist with the Stan Kenton Orchestra using three congas, a guiro mounted to a conga and a cowbell attached to a bass drum pedal.

On The Conga Kings, Candido collaborates with two other living conga legends, "Patato" Valdes and Giovanni Hidalgo, to create one of the greatest summits Cuban music has ever seen. Recorded in Chesky Records' signature glorious sound, The Conga Kings is a celebratory tribute to the vitality and artistry of Latin jazz.

The Conga Kings will be released by Chesky Records on April 25, 2000. Chesky Records is a world-renowned GRAMMY Award-winning audiophile jazz, adult pop, classical and world label based in New York.

Carlos "Patato" Valdes

For over 50 years, Carlos "Patato" Valdez has demonstrated how a musician can combine technical skill with superb showmanship. His conga playing fuses melody and rhythm, and his understanding of rhythm is rooted in dancing. Patato still dazzles onlookers with his famed dance moves at the age of 74 -- he's the man who gave Brigitte Bardot a mambo lesson in the film And God Created Woman- -- dancing to his own solo in front of the congas, behind them and on top of them, bringing them to sing in voices no other conga player is able to create, luring them to tell tales full of melodies and poignancy. It is Patato's spontaneity and charm that enables him to draw audiences from vastly different backgrounds and cultures into the irresistable Afro-Cuban rhythms which he creates.

Patato came to the United States in 1952 and worked at New York's Tropicana nightclub with Conjunto Casino. In 1954, he said good-bye to his homeland, Cuba and never returned. Patato's first jazz work was with Billy Taylor at Philadelphia's Blue Note jazz club. After that he worked at New York City's Apollo Theater with trumpet player Chip Murray and played on his first jazz recording, Afrodesia, with trumpet player Kenny Durham. Years later Patato formed a group of his own, which he named Afrojazzia.

Although Patato has recorded few albums as a bandleader, he is more influential than almost any other conguero because he invented the tunable conga, a revolutionary step in music history. Before Patato's innovation, the traditional conga consisted of a wooden body with a nailed-on drum skin, which was tuned by holding a candle beneath the skin, but the results of this technique were not very satisfactory, as the tension of the drum skin slackened as soon as the skin cooled down again. It was Patato's idea to fix the skin to a metal ring which, connected at various points with the conga body, could be stretched and loosened with the help of a square box wrench, thus enabling the musician to tune his instrument to specific pitches. Consequently, it was now possible to hit each half step of an octave, initiated by Patato's unique melodic style of employing multiple conga drums and using them as a melody-creating instrument, just as a piano player or a horn player would.

Patato patented this invention, and the company Latin Percussion Inc. began manufactured the instrument. Latin Percussion's "Patato Model" is the top star of their product family, and Patato's conga type is now used by hundreds of groups from Santana to the Rolling Stones, as well as by a lot of well-known congueros, many of whom are his former students.

Since the 1950's, Patato has been among the congueros who are in highest demand in the Latin music and jazz worlds. He has played, toured, and recorded with Miguelito Valdes, Perez Prado, Beny More, Cachao, Tito Puente (who called him "the greatest conguero alive today"), Machito, Herbie Mann, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones. Patato also acted in and composed the title song for the television series The Bill Cosby Show. In 1991 he contributed to the movie soundtrack of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

Recently, Patato, along with The Machito Orchestra, Candido Camero, Armando Peraza, Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros and Francisco Aguabella, was chosen by the Smithsonian to participate, in the Mambo and Afro-Cuban Jazz seminar hosted by Musica de las Americas. This series was an unprecedented event that celebrated the long tradition of exchange among the diverse music cultures of the Americas.

On The Conga Kings, Patato collaborates with two other living legends of the conga, Candido and Giovanni Hidalgo, to create one of the greatest summits Cuban music has ever seen. Recorded in Chesky Records' signature glorious sound, The Conga Kings is a celebratory tribute to the vitality and artistry of Latin jazz.

The Conga Kings will be released by Chesky Records on April 25, 2000. Chesky Records is a world-renowned, GRAMMY Award-winning audiophile jazz, adult pop, classical and world label based in New York.

Giovanni Hidalgo

Giovanni Hidalgo was born in 1963 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. By the time he was five years old, he was immersed in the rhythms of Caribbean percussion. His father, Jose "Manengue" Hidalgo, is a celebrated conguero in Puerto Rico to this day, and as a result of this drum-steeped upbringing, Giovanni developed a burning ambition to become a great musician. Giovanni may be younger than his fellow master congueros, "Patato" Valdez and Candido Camero, but a lifetime of prodigiously talented playing has earned him a featured part on Chesky Records' new release, The Conga Kings.

By the time Giovanni was a teenager, he was gigging with bands around Puerto Rico and building a reputation as an extremely talented percussionist. This reputation for innovation and versatility was hard-earned: as a teenager, he walked long distances to many of his gigs with his conga strapped to his back. His love for music was growing, and Hidalgo eventually traveled to Havana, Cuba to study with the father of modern Afro-Cuban percussion, Changuito. Giovanni's unequaled talents soon caught the ears of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. For four years, Giovanni traveled the globe with Gillespie's United Nations All-Star Orchestra. Gillespie acted as a mentor to the young conguero, and the world began to witness Giovanni's rhythmic genius.

Since then, Giovanni has performed and recorded with the likes of Tito Puente, Art Blakey, Michel Camilo, Ruben Blades, Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Mickey Hart's Planet Drum ensemble, Bruce Hornsby, Sammy Hagar, Joan Osborne, and Paul Simon. He has also recorded four albums as a bandleader, including the 1997 GRAMMY-Award nominated Hands of Rhythm.

On The Conga Kings, Giovanni collaborates with living legends Patato and Candido to create one of the greatest summits Cuban music has ever seen. Recorded in Chesky Records' signature glorious sound, The Conga Kings is a celebratory tribute to the vitality and artistry of Latin jazz.

The Conga Kings will be released by Chesky Records on April 25, 2000. Chesky Records is a world-renowned GRAMMY Award-winning audiophile jazz, adult pop, classical and world label based in New York.