CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: May 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

Rumbero's of the bay area - profiles and information

One at a time, i plan on doing bio's of each of the top talented Rumbero's in the bay. Perhaps interviews as well.

Each of these masters i know personally and i can say, with much satisfaction: they are all very nice people, and some have become close, loyal friends.

I've started this list of features with Maestro Carlos Aldama, the most senior and most experienced Rumbero in our midst. I hope this increases peoples awareness of these beautiful people and their incredible tradition. They are the keepers of the flame.

Up next... Sandy Perez

Maestro Carlos Aldama - from

Carlos Aldama
Oni-Sango, Omo Aña, Maestro

""You may ask why is this man so important? It is from the prestigious lineage from which this "slave to the drums" descends.

The knowledge that he has was passed to him orally by his teacher, Jesus Perez "Oba Ilu", original musical director of Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba and favorite student of Pablo Roche Cunal, "Akilakua", the man co-responsible with famed Cuban folkloric historian Fernando Ortiz for bringing the Bata drums out of the religious setting for its first public appearance, circa 1935. When Jesus passed on, Mr. Aldama became the musical director for the next fifteen years of the total twenty-eight years in which he remained with CFNC.

He is a co-founder of the Ministry of Culture, Havana Cuba (1959) and Co-founder of Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba (1962). Both the Cuban government and the Ministry of Culture have recognized him. He has been awarded a Doctorate on Folkloric Percussion and has a degree from The School of Music Ignacio Servantes Institute of Superior Art (ISA).

His life has been dedicated to the teaching and the performance of Afro-Cuban music. This passion and commitment to the rich life of Cuban people, has afforded him to teach and perform music throughout Europe, the Americas and Africa.

Master of percussion and song in;Yoruba Bata and Bembe, Congas-Palo Iyesa, Arara, Yuca, Makuta, Bricamo and Bantu. Rumba-Yambu, Guaguanco, Columbia, and Comparsa.

He has worked with the National Symphony of Cuba as well as composed the music for Alicia Alonzo's ballet The River and the Forest. He was musical director under famed playwright Roberto Blanco and famed director Alex Valdez, of the Karl Marx Theatre, Havana Cuba. He has laid musical tracks for soap operas and film. He has recorded with Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba, Lazaro Ros & Groupo Oru, Mercedita Valdez, Groupo Son 14, Sentesi, Mescla, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Sergio Vitier, Adalberto Alvarez y su Son and various other artists.

He is routinely "called in" as Akpwon and Elder (master of ceremonies) of ritual Afro Cuban Aña ceremonies in the Lukumi Santeria religion.

His teaching skills and style have brought him to universities and children classrooms and several Bay Area cultural institutions. He has been awarded an Artist in Residence award for three years in a row from the California Arts Council.

Mr. Aldama currently lives in the Oakland - SF - Bay Area and is available for lectures, consultations, private classes, performances and workshops.

If you are already a student of the bata drum; Mr. Aldama is selling some instructional bata drum videos which are a must if you are a devotee of the religion since he himself is playing on both videos, there are two videos. In Video I Mr. Aldama is playing all the parts, on Video II Mr. Aldama is playing the iya from Oro Seco all the way to Eggun. The videos are $75.00 a piece if anyone is interested in purchasing contact this e-mail address:

to contact Carlos Aldama. Please call
510. 351-5841 or

Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba - from

How incredible it is to know the grand master Carlos Aldama, with his amazing talent and experience. Its unbelievable how much has and continues to contribute to the tradition. I have so much respect for this gracious master.

We are also so lucky to have Francisco Barroso, the master dancer who also performed with Carlos in Havana.

some copy from on Conjunto Folklorico.


"The Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba was founded in 1960 in orderto preserve and pass on Cuba's unique cultural heritage to future generations.The greatest singers and dancers of the time were chosen for this task. To thisday the Conjunto continues to be the premier ensemble in a network ofgovernment-sponsored amateur and professional folkloric groups devoted toteaching and performing the culture indigenous to their towns and regions.

Although the Conjunto Folklórico Naçional specializes in thefolkloric music and dance of Havana province (where they reside), they alsocollect, study and disseminate Afro-Cuban culture from the entire island.Folkloric masters from the various provinces of Cuba come to the Conjunto toteach the resident masters and students. The visiting masters in turn, areencouraged to take the other masters' classes.

As Cuba's foremost folkloric ensemble, the Conjunto has, since itsinception, acted as an international ambassador of Afro-Cuban culture whiletouring throughout the world. Their school in Havana is a center for the manyforeigners who come from everywhere to attend ongoing courses in dance, drums andsinging. The Conjunto has won numerous international awards and appeared on filmand television. Many of its members have gone on to distinguished solo careers.

Música Yoruba consists entirely of Lucumí songs for theorisha, accompanied by batá drums. Recorded in the 1970s, this recordinghas captured a period when many of the Conjunto's founding elders were still inresidence.

The Performers:
Akpons (Lead Singers)

Lázaro Ros Lazaro Ros

Cuba's most famous akpón is Lázaro Ros, founding member of theConjunto. From early childhood, his talent set him on the path to becoming one ofthe great interpreters of the Lucumí language as used in Afro-Cubanrituals. Studying with Eugenio de la Rosa and other masters, he perfected hissinging technique and has become a nationally recognized virtuoso. His longcareer has included work in theater and films and many recordings. Always aninnovator, Lázaro's ground-breaking fusion efforts withSíntesis and Mezcla combine orisha songs with modern rhythmsand orchestrations. These days the master lives simply in Guanabacoa where hedevotes his time to singing in ceremonies and to developing his current group,Olorún, which includes many younger performers, thus fulfilling hisdesire to pass his knowledge on to the next generation.

Felipe Alfonso Pérez Felipe Alfonso Perez

Felipe Alfonso, a founding member of the Conjunto, had a legendary style ofsinging. Felipe's technique included a playful approach to timing that wasunparalleled. Playfulness characterized many aspects of his life. This recordingis probably the best documented example of this master's outstanding skills.Tragically, Felipe Alfonso died in November 1991 at the age of 43.

Zenaida Armenteros Zenaida Armenteros

A founding member of the Conjunto, Zenaida Armenteros is still with the group.Until recently she was the primary dancer of the orisha Oyá in theConjunto. Zenaida's singing career spans more than 40 years. She started out bytaking part in a singing competition on radio station Cadena Azul. One ofher early teachers was Obdulio Morales, an innovator who introduced the hornsection to the popular music known as Son (or Salsa outside of Cuba).Zenaida has sung in the most prestigious clubs in Havana, such as the Tropicana,and appeared as a singer in two films, Yambao and Mulata.Música Yoruba captures the marvelous quality of this incrediblesinger's voice.

The Drummers

Carlos Aldama (Iya Bata) Carlos Aldama

Carlos Aldama, a founding member of the Conjunto Folklórico, left thegroup in 1991. He studied batá under Jesus Pérez when that masterwas in residence at the Conjunto. Carlos has also worked with Alex Valdez,director of the Karl Marx Theatre in Havana. Other credits include recording withAdalberto Alvarez y su Son and more recently, a project involving bothLázaro Ros and the piano virtuoso Gonzalo Rubalcaba. He is currently leaddrummer for Lázaro Ros' Olorún, and plays with Sergio Vittier.

Mario Jáuregui (Itotele Bata) Mario Juaregui

Another founding member, Mario Jáuregui studied batá with themaster Pablo Roche at the age of nine. He also played at the Tropicana nightclubwith Jesús Pérez. Mario played on the very first record offolkloric guaguanco, Guaguanco Afro-cubano (Grupo Folklórico deAlberto Zayas). Mario also played with Sergio Vittier. In addition to hisdrumming skills, Mario is an extraordinary rumba dancer, a talent he demonstratedin many Conjunto performances.

Ramiro Hernández (Okonkolo Bata)

Originally from Matanzas, Ramiro lives in Jata near Guanabacoa. He is still inthe Conjunto today and is among the new group of elders who have had the "baton"passed to them. Ramiro played with batá masters Jesus Pérez and"Trinidad" Torregrosa."

Vintage conga blog - rumba blog - 100th post - Great reviews

So this is my 100th post on this Rumba blog project.

The response has been overwhelming. People really seem to dig it. Please feel free to add your comments.

Thanks to all for the encouragement and the friendship.

Also, feel free to contribute - just send me an email with your conga stories, pics, old drums, etc.

Read the latest post regarding Rumba, the Bay area Latin music scene, and info about restoring and playing the Congas.

congadr at gmail dot com

Thanks again, and I hope this is the first 100 of many.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Conga Blog - Afro-Cuban Percussion blog - Rumba blog

Hey there mr. Google spider,

just a post to get seen a bit more easily by the search engines.

If you want to see the latest posts, click HERE.

hope y'all find all the key words interesting...

Gon Bops conga, valje conga, junior congas, JCR congas, Moperc congas, Isla percussion, echotone congas, king congas, what elce...



Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rumba at Mosswood '08 - What a scene!

Gotta love the Mosswood park jam the day after Carnival. What do we call it? Sometinajamma?

So many talented players come by to play, eat and kick back for the day. Its so nice to play with these cats in a low key setting. I did get a scolding or two, as usual, but hey... thats what i live for - tough love!

Yagbe, Flaco, Javier, Michael, Pili, Irish Rick, Bata Rick, Enrique, Richard, Yaya, Wade, Hadley, C.K. and many other talented players from different traditions - some real heavies from the Brazilian and African traditions were there as well.

Here are a few clips of the fun... Yea, i know, i was playing over Yaya, but i was trying to sing and play quinto at the same time, yea right!

...In the other clip, check out the Brazilian, Cuban, and African jams, all kicking at once!


Selling conga skins, making friends

One of the really fun parts of this business is meeting some of the coolest people around. - interesting, cultural, artistic people.

I sell top quality Cow hide. Some of the best skins around - i ship them to pro players all around the world.

James had some Mombiza solid shell drums that needed special skins to deal with the ringing, and a set of old Valje SF, in mint condition that needed skins as well. He dropped by to skin up one of his drums and talk congas.

He brought some of his drums, and gave me a blind test of Valjes, SF and LA. I closed my eyes and played both, without him telling me what i was playing.

It was more difficult than i thought, but was able to guess the LA valje. But the SF valje, with a much more woody tone, threw me. It almost sounded like a mahogany drum, with light airy overtones. These SF valjes are thinner and sound different than the LA drums, for sure. I like them both, actually.

Mike is skinning a set of Gon Bops congas, one at a time, and was by to pick up a tumba skin, as well as to show off the sound of the quinto skin i scored for him.

That's a nice sounding Gon Bops quinto, Mahogany, gell coated. They have a bit more projection, with the gel coat, and dont crack much at all, compared to other Mahogany Gon Bops of that era.

Its always fun to do business with people you like.

Email me, if you need high end skins for your congas or sets of bongo - congadr@gmail dot com


Thursday, May 22, 2008

vintage Valje conga and quinto restoration for Maddie's hubby

Another fun project, and a very thoughtful fathers day gift. Maddie in the east bay commissioned my services to restore this old set of Valje congas.

Dont we all wish we had a wife who would get an old set of Valjes refurbished for her man on Fathers day! She sure gets the whole 'the way to a man's heart is through his drums' idea.

.... or perhaps thats just my heart.. but anyway.

This is a set of 14's, as i call them, from the Valje sunset strip shop, 3314 address in L.A. ... the older tubs Tom made.

They were in great shape, for the most part. With a few hairline cracks, but in really good condition overall.

They needed new skins as the stock Calf skins last about 10 years. The drums are over 30 years old, and in almost new condition, really.

A few solid repairs, new skins and a test drive... these drums are now sound studio quality drums.

amazing guy, this Tom Flores. He made the sweetest drums.

These older models are slighly thinner, with tighter, mostly continuous quarter sawn oak. This is more Gonzalo Vergara like in its thinness, and a better sounding drum, overall, i think.

The Valje 12's, or the ones made at 3312, or around that time, were made a bit thicker, with not so much attention to the tight continuous grain. The 12's tend to need more work, more often.

Akbar went to a thinner shell when he made Valje congas in San Francisco. i just played a set yesterday, more dry and woody sounding, almost Mahogany in its woody overtones and lack of defined ring.

Somewhere i was reading that Tom purchased a Vergara to learn how he built drums. The very early 5banded Mahogany quinto had the same shape as a Vergara quinto, and with the 5 bands. Vergara congas were thin, in comparison to most modern high end drums.

so, as far as this set, and this fun project... off they go, to one happy Pop, on a memorable fathers day.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

La Pena 5.08 Sandy, Michael, Carlito

Fat time at La Pena on sunday! Most of the crew showed after a slow start. Flaco, Pili, Javier, Michael, Yaya, Orlando, Sandy, Carlito, Enrique, among others.

We had a really nice Rumba. At one point, the whole house was dancing!

Its very nice to see the Rumba thrive, sometimes it seems like we are the only people in the world who know how cool this all is...

After the Rumba at La Pena, some of the cats went to Tony D's to play. He is redoing his huge studio and turning it into a night club (dont know how he's going to get the permits)

Pili, Hector, Javier and Yaya were headed over there.

I knew Anna Ponce had a little party going on, and Sandy and Michael were heading over for some food.

Anna is the most incredible cook! She completely rocks.

So, Rick, Daniel, Michael, Sandy and I hit Anna's.

For a bit, i was thinking we made the wrong choice, as everyone was slow to get to playing, but when it got going.... my oh my...

I decided then and their, in the future, im always going where Sandy goes. Getting to play with him for any amount of time is worth missing any other hit, without a doubt. Even if it doesnt happen from time to time, i just have to stay on his coat tails. What an incredible cat.

At one point in the night, just Sandy and I played the tubs, while Michael sang. It was incredible. Simply unbelievable that , at this point in my life, i find myself right in the thick of the best situation i could ask for!! so fortunate...

I didnt film anything at Anna's, as the video camera is bugging some of the Cuban cats... they just want to play, not be 'on stage'. So once in a while the sessions will go unfilmed, but i will try to get as much footage as possible, for us all.

Man Michael La Brada has one of the best sounding voices ive heard.

The best Rumba singer in this area is a cat named Alexis Zayas Rosabal, but Michael is a close second, for me. Fito Reinoso, Yaya, Orlando, Jose Luis... we have some serious singers here in the bay... I'm planning on studying with Yaya.

Pic is of Yaya, Jose Luis, and Fito at La Pena a few years back - pic by Flaco.

I've arranged for Irish Rick to pick up Michael on the way to the rumbas, so he'll be back in the scene! We are so so lucky to have him around.

From Flaco's site about Alexis, the top singer of rumba in the bay area.

'Alexis Zayas Rosabal is the son of famed Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba singer Cándido Zayas Díaz, and has himself a distinguished career as a singer, with groups such as Raíces Profundas, Danza Nacional De Cuba,la Escuela Nacional De Arte (La ENA/El LISA),and El Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba. For many years he has also been the akpwón for Regino Jiménez, with el tambor de Jesús Pérez.'

Pic of Alexis by Flaco.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Conga skins - Mule, Cow, what's best?

If you are looking for high end Conga skins for the professional player, you have come to the right place.

The best way to get the best sound, is to have a player select your skin for you, your drum, and your gigging life.

Each drum, played by a specific player,playing a specific style of music demands a specific skin.

Most players prefer Cow. Getting the right piece, even if expertly tanned, is all in the selection.

After 30 years of playing, and 10 years of restoring congas and bongo, having played nearly every make of drums, in many different materials, I can hear the sound of a drum before it is skinned.

Knowing how people play - their chops, knowing the various styles of music and the application of the instrument in that setting. And knowing the cat with a huge stock of skins to sort through - as opposed to selling what ever shows up in the mail... I can hook you up with the right skin.

I provide skins for many top players across the country, including Pedrito Martinez, Sandy Perez, Ramon Diaz, Chris 'Flaco' Walker, to name a few. 

Here is an example of the Skins I sell, and some of the restoration work as well. 


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

LP Valje congas - a devolution

Here is a pic of the various Valje's made over the years.. nice to see them all in one pic (by Sir Brian).

from left to right, LA sunset strip Tom Flores Valje, SF Akbar Valje (refurbished by Wil Perez with custom stain) , LP siam Oak Valje, LP Cherry Valje. And the LP Beech Valje to follow.

Inside pic is of the 'tweener' seemingly siam oak lp valje. Note, the first pic on this post is yet another connotation of LP valje 'tweener' with sf valje sticker, lp shape and rubber bottom.

So, the progression of woods for lp valjes goes as follows:
1995 or so till 1997 - Siam Oak, 1997 to 2000 - American Cherry, 2000 to 200? - Beech.

Welcome conga board members ;)


Conga repair - Conga restoration and conga skins

Ok, all my projects are complete, looking for a new set of tubs to rebuild and make nice.

Any congas in need of some work?

Im 35 an hour, most projects are from $50 - $150 a drum.

Let me know what you have, happy to give you a quote on the project.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Cuba day at Zone Music - Carlito Alveda (new heavy in town)

New heavy from Havana, Carlito Alveda will be performing at Zone in Cotati this Sat at 1:00


Old Ashiko from Tom Flores - one of his first?

A friend of mine and fellow blog watcher Chris sent me some pictures of an old Valje Ashiko.

Close inspection reveals Toms signature work, on a rather odd drum. I say that, because it is made of fir, and thicker than most of his work, with a round comfortable bearing edge, witch is exactly what you would have to do,if you made it out of a softer wood.

In the beginning Tom is said to have worked with various woods. I believe he was trying to find the material that worked best for him. It would also make sense that he worked out new shapes with cheaper, more easily workable wood.

We all know he settled on one wood - said to be a Red Oak, but the armature botanist in me thinks its a White Oak (many species in both the red and white designation).

Anyway, this old drum has inexact, hand made side plates in stead of the exact stamped ones he used later in the life of Valje, the buisiness. (note: the marks under the side plates in the pic are due to mixing up the mounting of the side plates - due to the hand made nature of the side plates, they are all different)

The bands and the feet are just like the ones in the pic from the resolution site, from Ralphs collection of fotos.

Chris's Ashiko has his signature gluing technique inside (brushed off, no beads, his glue) and the bearing edge is knocked off with precision, yet still rough - Very, very Tom Flores.

The drum is thick fir, I believe. It has bands and legs seen in the picture on Tom's son Ralph's site, resolution drums.

The legs are made of Oak, as Fir legs would be too brittle and weak. I think this, and the fact that it is a fir shell, is why others have been reluctant to call this Toms work.

But really, The hardware it Toms, no doubt, with Valje stickers, legs, crown, sideplates and all. The shell has no sign of prior hardware, or tackhead tack and associated strap mounting holes.

The hardware looks original to me, and not retrofitted to this shell, for instance.

It has two Valje logo stickers, but the address is worn off - they look like the old design.. they changed the look of the lable at some point in the early 60's, i believe.

interesting to see Toms early work, this is the second all hand made old Valje by Tom that ive seen, actually.

One day i will be able to share a video i took of this old cat in Mosswood park a few years back.

He had a very Cuban looking bullet quinto of Mahogany with 5 bands with very Valje like, hand welded but almost exactly like the final Valje hardware.

I asked the old man where he got the drum (did not want to tip him off, in case he would sell it to me on the spot, so i didnt say anything about Valje). The cat tells me his neighbor Tom Flores made it out of his garage in Los Angeles!

I was blown away... he let me film it closeup with my phone.. i need to figure out how to convert it for yall.

Anyway, This is some of Tom's early work, i believe...

Sabado de Rumba - Sweetie Pie kick off rumba!

Now that was fun.

Being Mothers day weekend, it was fun to actually get a rumba going on the first of many hits at Sweetie Pies and Popies in Oakland.

We are going to be playing there every other Saturday, the second and fourth Sat of the month.

The 24th is not hitting, as there is a birthday party there booked long ago.

It was very nice to see the cats there, Yagbe, Yaya, Rick, Bruce, Enrique, Alaine, Maria and I were the first crew of this new project. many hits to come!

I know, its not the best, but hey... gotta start somewhere.

Build it, and the heavies will come...


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Maestro Tom Flores - Valje congas

Im reposting this, as i published a comment with a phone number and couldnt figure out how to edit it...

Many more pics to come...

From sir Brian Matza's research, and some is regularly disputed, so this is just what he has come up with:

From the time Tom Flores started to build his dums in the 1950's until today, there have been many faces to and behind the the name. What we call Val Jay (Valje), is actually pronounced Val Jee. The name is said to come from Valerie and Jean, not sure if tis was Toms wife and daughter or what (disputed fact, as some say valje was Tom's dog). Tom worked out of two locations in Los Angeles, 3312 Sunset Blvd. and 3314 Sunset Blvd.; moving one whole address away Any drums with the 3314 address are the first that were made.
His innovation of air drying his staves and scoring the interiors of the staves to prevent cracking and allow flexibility during construction was ahead of the pack, but his drums did not take on a huge following until being used by Santana and other Latin rock and rock bands. At one point he and Mariano of Gon Bops were in business together to try and corner the market, but like many partnerships, it ended due to personal philosophy (Others say they never worked together).
By the late 70's Tom was getting tired of the business and the competition by mega mass drum producers. In the early 80's he sold the name and shop to Haight Ashbury Music of San Francisco who was a large retailer of his drums. Akbar Moghaddam, then working as a drum repairman, asked his friend who owned Haight Ashbury Music, Massoud Badakhshan, if he could go to L A to learn how to make the drums from Tom; he was turned down and four others were sent. After about three months Akbar was called back to go to work with Tom because the others failed; maybe partially due to Toms tough temperment. I am not sure, but i think Octavio Ruiz was working with Tom at the time. In any event, Tom taught Akbar how to make the Valje drums. Within a year the operation was moved to San Francisco where the second generation of Valje was created by Akbar with the help of Octavio who moved north to continue the tradition. The only difference in the second generation was that the height was cut down from 31" to 30" and a decal was put on the drum with Valje of San francisco on it (one could still order the taller model but it would require an additional cost). The drums hadware was the same, still made of red oak and the scoring of the staves remained. This operation was only in existance for about two years before there was a fire that destroyed the shop and about 50 shells, thus making these drums the rarest of all hand crafted valje's. The fire was started when a fireworks company exploded on a bright sunny afternoon about 5:00 PM across the street. Akbar heard the explosion and ducked just as the heavy metal door to the shop blew open and across into his machinery. He exited and began to knock on doors and assist others in shops all around the industrial area who were injured and bleeding. He was very lucky, and we are as well, since he is still making drums for all who have them. I know first hand of the devistation of this massive fire, because this conguero was a bombero who fought that fire as a member of the SFFD. I and others pulled 8 corpses out of the mess. Well the story goes faster now. Akbar went on to open his own shop, Sol Percussion, making fantastic drums here in S F., and is now at DW, as you all know, overseeing the whole conga production from the highly demanded California series to production and quality control of the other lines made out of the country. The next generation of Valje was a drum made in Thailand from Thai oak. The first models had no LP markings (LP purchased the rights to the name and drum from Haight Ashbury Music), the hardware stayed the same other than a small Valje was inscribed on the side plates, handle and tuning rods; of course the sizes became standard and fewer and the interior scoring was eliminated. The next generation was the Armando Perazza Cherry wood series; which is a beautiful drum. It also had standard sizes but the hardware was a bit larger and mounted by three bolts instead of two - plastic/rubber trays were designed and mounted to the bottoms of the drums. There is more to the story and please feel free to add what you know, as i will add more as i learn more.
Tom Flores went on to design and build the Resolution Drums with his son Ralph. Tom died a few years back and his son continues on with the drums and repair of old L A Valje's, 31".
The Valje drums vary in size from 9.5 to 14. There can be many sizes in between since they were handcrafted by a real craftsman and artist; he had no training in precision, but was quite presice anyway. The Valje drums are known to keep their shape and rarely crack if taken care of; but we all now wood will be wood - so thanks to Ralph and his love of repairing these drums. Tom often had extra wood around which he used to complete a drum. This often resulted in the smaller bellied drums with small head sizes. He did not make a requinto, but these small drums would be the ones that look like a requinto.