Bongo Mania!






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People often misuse the word "bongo" to describe a variety of hand drums, including congas and djembes, but bongos are specifically a pair of small drums, one smaller than the other, joined together side by side. They are usually played with the hands, but can be played with sticks for a different sound. They are traditionally made of wood with rawhide heads, but a wide variety of other natural or synthetic materials can be used.

No-one can pinpoint an exact origin for this form of drum. Across the African continent different musical traditions play bongos of various shapes and materials. Ceramic bongos migrated north and east across the Middle East and Asia, while wooden ones came west with the slave trade. The slaves that arrived in Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean had a strong appreciation for bongos, so this instrument became an important part of the music that developed there. Cubans later invented the tuning hardware that is standard on most modern bongos.

During the early half of the 20th century, Afro-Caribbean rhythms had a huge influence on popular dance music and jazz worldwide. This brought bongos into our cultural vocabulary, from Beatniks to Mambo to the current revival of Cuban folkloric music.

The anatomy of a pair of bongos:

bongo anatomy

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