CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gon bops and Valje, Red and White Oak

The amateur botanist in me has always wondered what exact species of Oak was used by Gon Bops and Valje, back in the day.

Looking at the drums in the past, Gon Bops looks to be a red Oak, and Valje as well, but does not look to be the same species.

As far as Red and White Oak, there is a fairly simple way of telling them apart.

firstly, the side grain, looking for long horizontal marks called "rays", being longer in the white oak, the one on the top of this picture. Not to be confused by the annual rings marks, the bigger bands lighter in color.

And secondly, the end grain, looking for a more prominent 'stacks of soda straws viewed on end', or more and slightly bigger little circles, if that makes sense. the Red Oak is on the left, White on the right.

I'll have to look at some closeups in the past, as I dont have oak Gon Bops or Valjes in my possession, at the moment. Feel free to send pics if you have them,

My guess is that Gon bops and Valje used either California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii) or Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), or even more confusing to us as identifiers... the Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis), an intermediate species, half way between white an red Oak!

Im quite sure Valje and Gon Bops did not use the same species of wood, at least in the time of the early Sunset Strip shop... Akbar in SF may have used a different species of Oak than Tom in LA...

Anyway, I'll change this post in the future if I can confirm my suspicions.

Skin on skin congas for sale

Here is a nice set of tubs, to say the least. they are up for sale on ebay, ending early december 2010.

slightly big at 12 and 13, but you could have Jay build you a couple others to match!

They are interesting, as they are not quarter sawn - hence the strong gain look. Unusual, as quarter sawn oak is usually a signature of Jays work.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sandy Perez, Toby Gaster, Olando Diaz, Ariel and Irish Rick McKinney at Kittys

Ashiko convention - Gon Bops, Valje, Drumskull solid shell congas

A reader and fan of this blog sent me pictures of some of the drums in his collection.. he has managed to find two Gon Bops Ashiko, and one made by Tom Flores of Valje drums. Check out the original wooden legs on the Velje, and the custom, original Gon Bops stands.. Very interesting to see the differing heights of the various Ashikos Gon Bops made.. I bet the made another size for a series of three.. How fun to own such rare drums.. there has to be only a hand full of them in existence... by the way, the Gon bops are Mahogany and the Valje is Oak...

.. he also send me pics of his Drumskull set of solid shell drums.. Nice looking set.. I bet they are LIVE!

Drumskulls is out of Santa Cruz, has a great reputation for service and quality.. a bit expensive.. but you get what you pay for, most often...

they also sell drum carving and roping tools.. very cool...

Super Rare Candido Requena Conga for sale

Here is a chance to own history.

This drum, listen on ebay at the moment, was made by a master drum maker of Cuba, the first credited for introducing tunable metal hardware.. leading to the end of the tack-heads..

The quinto up for sale was restored by the Master Maker Matt Smith, and it looks immaculate.. like most of his work.

Here is a post with pictures of other Candido's

Good luck!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gon Bops Congas - restoration and crack repair - like saving rare birds

These old Mahogany drums are some of the best sounding, and least stable drums around. And owning an old set, often, is like adopting a special needs kid. It may be the most rewarding experience, it will just take a bit more commitment to make that happen...

The material is hydro-phobic, staying very dry, and the reason it is a really nice ship building wood. So it tends to be less flexible than other woods. The glue Gon Bops used back in the 70's was not the best glue in the world, and has about a 40yr life span.. so the drums often have to be practically rebuilt.

But once together, the drums sound and look like no other. Probably the most popular drum to own and play out of all the hand made drums in history.. perhaps ZamGar from Mexico with the tackheads of the 60's might have sold more drums..but as far as for competent players, Gon Bops have it. That's quite amazing.. go California!

So, this particular restoration came in almost finished, but the process of refinishing with power tools created lots of vibration on the old shells. In the process of removing the stock gel coat, a bit too much material was taken off the shells, making them a bit thin. Funny thing about thin shells, they sound even better to me, but are less stable. The saving grace was the fact they had no internal sidecuts, like many Gon Bops of that era.

After a really nice job refinishing the drums, the shells started to crack, and came in with 7 hairlines that needed attention.

So, the conga came together nicely,and played nice.. but the quinto, after repairing four obvious cracks, showed three more hairline cracks not previously noticeable. And after that fix, another two reared their ugly heads.

I actually like to see them come up.. so we can fix them and get the shell sounding as good a possible.

The prior work, combined with the clamping to fix the first series of splits on the quinto, created quite a 'crack chasing' episode. requiring two additional crack fixing sessions, and 8-9 total cracks fixed on this one drum.

Its quite traumatic to hear about, but these drums do usually stabilize with the weak points being strengthened.

The conga, a nice 11.5", thankfully without sidecuts on the inside, had three hairline cracks that I fixed up, matching up the repairs without having to refinish the drum, which sometimes can be rather challenging.

In this case, I couldnt take any more material off of the shell, so we had no choice but to match the repairs.. It came out really nice in the end, and they are virtually invisible.

The sound of the shell does not lie. You can always tell if you have missed any major cracks, as the shell will not sing. You can tap on the shell with your hand, play the shell on the top, as if it had a skin, and the tone of the shell will tell you how structurally sound the shell is. And these shells sound great.

These drums were retrofitted with almas top and bottom. They were very well made, and very well installed. They will be kept in round, no doubt, but I believe it may prevent the shells from flexing, from morning to night, from winter to summer.. and may cause more problems than they fix.. but we'll see if they stabilize.

As for now, they are solid, without a hint of a hairline, and sound great.

Off they go to a life of house arrest! jaja.. Dont think these drums should be dragged around to the local drum circle.. but that's just me..

It was a fun project for both the owner and myself, and the drums are back to being more beautiful today than gel coated out of the shop.

Next up, a set of 70's one off's from the Gon Bops factory.. they were gel coated AND painted over.. should be an adventure...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Gon Bops Ashiko

Just when you think youve seen every possible Gon Bops.. then this pops up..

Ive never seen a Gon Bops Ashiko.. Seen a Valje Asiko, but never one made of Mahogany..

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jorgito's Mojo Oyster Shots - A Dream In Full Motion

Ok, usually I reserve this blog for anything conga related, and this post is a stretch...

... my good friend, and aspiring Rumba singer Jorgito Duardo is starting a business venture that I find absolutely fairytale-like.

He is a Cuban American who's family sold Oysters back on the island for several generations. He is now launching a mobile business selling Oyster shooters! And they are seriously Tasty!!

He will be at most of the major festivals and farmers markets around the SF Bay area, and you can get uptated info of his location by hitting or

This is the American dream, live and well, here in the bay area.. Makes me proud that this is still the land of opportunity for many of us.

So, do throw down your support and a few Oyster shooters to boot! See you there!

Mahogany Junior Requinto up for sale

Heres a chance to bid on a rare Reqinto made by the master drum maker Junior Tirado.

Its up for sale on a popular auction site near you! Good luck! and feel free to send it my ass as a gift for all the wonderful posts I have published over the years.. ;)

...and the final price is!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Erick Barberia - Master of his tradition

As if the weather wasn't good enough to move here.. Master Singer, Dancer and Percussionist Erick Barberia is living in the bay area - openly sharing his deep knowledge with all of us. He is certainly a cultural treasure, and a large part of why the Bay area is the place to be.

Erick can be easily contacted for private and group lessons, DANCE CLASS SCHEDULE and directions, as well as booking a performance or workshop: (831) 818-4781, or at

To listen Erick in his various projects, visit, and to see videos of Erick in performance, check out and

We are greatly inspired by his solid knowledge and skill, as well as the loving way he shares his tradition to anyone who would like to know about it. We are some lucky people, to have him here.

Erick is one of very few Cuban folklorists in the area who knows the rhythms, the dance and the songs, along with deep knowledge of the practice and history of this amazing Afro-Cuban tradition, or set of traditions.

(pictured with Sandy Perez of AfroCuba de Matanzas, Fito Reinoso, and Jose Luis Gomez)

Here is a short bio of his posted on his facebook profile:

Erick was born listening to the music of his father, Luis Barberia, singer of the famous Orquesta Jorrin (the creator of the ChaChaCha). Erick began his studies in the School, Escuela Vocacional de Arte Juan Pablo Duarte. He continued his studies in the Escuela Nacional de Arte (ENA), graduating in Folkoric Dances, and studying under professors such as Lazaro Pedroso (Musician and Author), and Francisco Ofarril, who for twenty years was the principle dancer of the Conjunto Foklorico Nacional de Cuba.

(Erick is the singer who comes on at minute 3:00 of this video)

Erick graduated the ENA as a dance teacher and began his professional career working in Matanzas as a dancer, actor and percussionist, with the Proyecto Korimacao, directed by the actor Manuel Porto. In his two years with Proyecto Korimacao, he shared the stage with groups such as Pachito Alonso y sus Kini Kini, Conexción Salsera, Son Damas, La Farandula, La Karovan, La Reve, Maravillas de Florida amongst others. After Korimacao, Erick returned to Havana to teach Cuban Folkloric song and percussion in the ENA and in the Centro Nacional de Escuelas de Arte (CENSEA) for the next five years.

Erick is crowned Omo Eleggua, Awo Orunmila and comes from the Afro-Cuban Yoruba family of Papo Angarica. Erick, Omo Aña, was consecrated in the tambor Aña bi, of the deceased Nicolas Angarica and one of the oldest Tambores that exists in Cuba today. With Aña bi, Erick has played with many other drummers such as, Angel Bolaños, Regino Jiménez, Papo Angarica, Nene Carvajal, Alfredo Coyute, Cristóbal Larrinaga and many others.

Pasion Rumbera - Consuelate Como Yo from on Vimeo.

(The video above includes Master Ramon "Sandy" Perez and Tobias Gaster on percussion)

Erick currently lives and works in San Francisco, California. Working as a musician, he has had the pleasure to work with artists such as, Chucho Valdez, Papo Angarica, Michael Lazarus, Jesús Díaz, Sandy Pérez, Rebeca Mauleon, Pepito Gomez, Karl Perraza, Michael Spiro, Carlos Aldama, José Francisco Barroso, Susana Arenas, Raul Pineda, Fito Reinoso, among many others.

In 2006, Erick had the honor to record, in Cuba, with the great Chucho Valdez, creator of Irakere. and his Sister Maria Caridad Valdez (CD Obatala), produced by Colibri Records. Other collaborating artists included Yalordi Abreu, Dreiser Durruty, Orlando Vallez (Maraca), German Velazco, Jorge Reyes amongst others. Erick has also recorded with Fito Reinoso y su Ritmo y Harmonia (CD Comunicacion), Wobbly World (CD Wobbly World), Victor Little (Inner Portrait), John Santos (CD La Guerra No), P23, Sandy Perez y su Lade and others.

Besides performing, Erick also teaches Afro-Cuban Folkloric and Popular (Salsa, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha) dance, song and percussion. He teaches classes, in local dance studies, private classes, workshops, Middle schools, Junior High schools, High Schools and Universities. His entire schedule is available at

Blogger sentenced to 19 years in prison in Iran

Who knows if this is true, or actually happened, but if so.. makes me love the USA more every day! Bet this cat doesn't love Iran enough to stay there behind bars for 19years for simply posting his opinion.

from Y**hoo news:

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian court sentenced the founder of one of the first Farsi-language blogs, credited with sparking the boom in Iranian reform bloggers, to more than 19 years in prison for his writings, a news web site reported Tuesday.

Iranian-Canadian Hossein Derakhshan, 35, was a controversial figure among Iran's blogging community. Writing his blog from Canada, he was initially a critic of Iran's clerical leadership, and in 2006 he visited Israel — Iran's archenemy — saying he wanted to act as a bridge between the two countries' peoples.

But he later became a vocal supporter of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, praising him for standing up to the West and criticizing regime opponents. Derakhshan then visited Iran in 2008 and was arrested. Over the next two years, he was often held without communication with family or lawyers, according to rights groups.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Conga Classes Online!! Michael Spiro's

For all those who would like to learn more about this tradition, there is no better source than Michael Spiro. And now, with the miracle of the internet, and our evolving use of it, Mike has brought an extremely functional way of passing on this tradition to anyone who would like to learn about it - no matter where you live in the world. -More about Mike-

It cracks me up to think of some cat in the middle of winter in Fairbanks Alaska, nose buried in Mikes site, waist deep in 12/8 material... feeling the heat of the Cuban sun and the smell of the salty air.

gotta love the internet.. it's opened up an entire new world to so many.

So, If you find yourself in the wheat fields of North Dakota or somewhere, and want to take an incredible journey into Cuban music direct from the word of mouth tradition itself, there is no better place to go for accurate and respectful information than

Sounds like a commercial.. lol.. but just wait till you check out Mikes video lessons.. its a seriously sweet setup he put together, and has regular guest teachers of the highest order.

I am told that hundreds of students across the country use Mike's site.. now that is contributing to the tradition man! Long live Cuban Folklore! Long live Mike Spiro!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FIESTA DE LA RUMBA! PlazaCUBA's 10-Year Anniversary

My good friend, fantastic dancer, and seriously heavy business woman Alisa Froman - Executive director of is putting on a fat event this weekend.. hope you all clear out your schedules for this one!

Event Details:

Cuban Dance Workshop - Saturday September 25, 12:00-6:00pm $15 per class / $60 for Day Pass

Lake Merritt Dance Center(Veteran's Memorial Bldg)
200 Grand Avenue, Oakland CA

Rumba and Salsa Dance Party
Sunday September 26, 2:00-7:00pm $10 Cover

Cafe Cocomo 650 Indiana St, San Francisco, CA

In Recognition of Carlos Aldama, His Life and Work

As part of our festivities, we are delighted to be honoring a distinguished member of our community, Carlos Aldama Perez. In Cuba, Carlos has been recognized for his significant contribution to the richness and livelihood of Afro-Cuban traditions. He was awarded a Doctorate on Folkloric Percussion and has a degree from the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Havana. He co-founded the Ministry of Culture, Havana (1959) and was a founding member of the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba (1962). He has been residing in the US since 1999 and is a central figure in the Yoruba religious community here in Northern California. He is looked up to by many as a community leader. PlazaCUBA salutes his life and work. For more informaion about Carlos, see his website at:

Cuban Dance Workshop
Saturday, September 25 at Lake Merritt Dance Center – $15 per class / $60 for Day Pass
PLEASE PRE-REGISTER. You can pay online by PayPal or at the door the day of the event.

There will be multiple dance teachers in each class with some breakdown by level. Guest teachers include Carlos Aldama, Jesus Diaz, Eric Barberia, Royland Lobato, Idalmis Romero, Yismari Ramos, Alain Soto Jose Francisco Barroso, Manuel Suarez and more! LIVE MUSIC (except Salsa and Rumba for women).

11:30am Sign-in

12:00 – 1:00 Introduction to Rumba: Roots & Rhythms
Cuban master percussionist Carlos Aldama will discuss the history, rhythmic structure and dances of the Rumba cycle: Yambu, Guaguanco and Columbia. Live music with Jesus Diaz, Fito Reynoso and Eric Barberia. Dance demonstration with Royland Lobato and Idalmis Romero.

1:00 – 2:00 Yambú and Guaguanco
This multi-level rumba class will be taught by Royland Lobato and Idalmis Romero. They will show basic steps and advanced choreography and will focus on the relationship between men and women in Rumba.

2:00 – 3:00 Columbia (for men)
Aiain Soto and Royland Lobato will teach two levels of Rumba Columbia, a dance typically performed by men. They will break down the steps and show how the movements fit with the percussion.

2:00 – 3:00 Guaguanco / Rumba in Cabaret (for women)
Idalmis Romero will teach a Guaguanco class that focuses on 'the Vacunao' – the part of the dance where the woman must protect herself from the man's advances. Also included: Rumba influences in Cabaret.

3:00 – 4:00 Afro-Cuban Folklore
Jose Barroso and Alain Soto will teach a multi-level Yoruba class. Jose Barroso will teach advanced steps and choreography. Aiain Soto will work with the same rhythms but focus on basic steps for the more beginning students.

4:30 – 6:00 Folkloric influences in Cuban Salsa
This salsa class will be divided into two levels in separate dance studios and will be taught by Eric Barberia, Yismari Ramos, Manuel Suarez and Idalmis Romero. Classes will focus on Afro-Cuban and Rumba influences in Cuban Salsa.

Please register in advance. While drop-ins are welcome, with advance registration you can secure your space in the workshop and help us keep classes running on time. Click the link in the left margin to go straight to our registration page.

Rumba and Salsa Dance Party
Sunday, September 26 at Cafe Cocomo - $10 Cover

Rumba and Salsa all afternoon with a variety of local dance teachers, percussionists, singers and lovers of Cuban music. Live Rumba with the Bay Area's talented Rumberos, including Carlos Aldama, Sandy Perez, Jesus Diaz, Fito Reynoso, Mijail Labrada, Colin Douglas and more!

Cuban Salsa with Special Guest DJ DarkRum of Añejo Productions!

Win great prizes at our raffle at Cafe Cocomo on Sunday. Cost is just $1 (plus your email address). Prizes include SF Jazz tickets to Chucho Valdés and Omara Portuondo, free Cuban Music and Dance DVDs from Boogalu Productions, Carlos Aldama's Afro-Cuban Music CD and more!

Win a voucher for a free trip to Cuba with PlazaCUBA!
Winner can redeem voucher for the entire cost of registration in PlazaCUBA's Summer 2011 Music and Dance Program in Havana. (Actual cost $2,750.) Must be present to win. Voucher has no cash value and must be used by the winner (no substitutions). Airfare is not included in this offer.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Congadr Twitter Feed for Latin shows in sf bay area:

So, I figure its too easy to post tweets about shows that are going on, as I have most of them in my calendar as it is..

It also gets me to look for more shows to check out...

This place is so cool.. just witnessed Stanley Jordan last night.. front row for $7.

Anyway, my love of live music, seeing and playing it.. I thought Id tie in the blog about Latin music and add a twitter feed so you can see what live music to check out in and around the bay area public and private. Just go to the link, and follow me to receive the updates to your twitter page, and even have them sent directly to your phone.

or text "follow Congadr" to 40404
Too much fun, this will get you out more!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

John Santos Lecture series on African and Latin influences in music of the americas

This is a great example of how difficult it is to describe to people just how talented the cats are in this tradition.. John, for example can be called a Master percussionist.. and the man has so many other talents, from singing to his Ethnomusicologism (a new word, just for you John ;) ...a very long list of talents this cat enjoys. We are all lucky he likes to share!

He is the real deal.. knows his history and the music.. so nice for me to hear the material that fascinates me, as a musician and cultural explorer of some of the same traditions. I could listen to him talk on this subject until the moon comes back around...

I very much like his academic approach, knowing how grounded he is as a musician.. in the end, it just makes him that much better sounding on the drum!

You can catch him tonight and tomorrow, Sept 1 and the 8th, I believe:

SF Jazz: John Santos @ MoAD from Jenny Chu on Vimeo.



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Launching a new "Latin Music around the bay" Tweet!

Updates on Latin shows, dance classes, Rumbas and music Festivals in and around the SF Bay Area. Brazilian, Spanish, Cuban, if it grooves, I'll tweet about it!

For those of you who dont know what in the world a tweet is..

you go to twitter, set up a free account, and link to people who you want to hear from. They post short blerbs about whatever.. like latin music.. and the tweet can be seen on your twitter account page, or it can be sent to your phone as a text if you want.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Old banded Valje for sale

Ive only seen one banded Valje, that was strapped by Tom Flores himself before leaving the shop.

The first one I saw was made of walnut, and had Valje like hand welded hardware.. I believe one of Toms first drums, which is owned by an older cat who lives in Oakland. He said he bought it on the street, from a guy named Tom in LA.. too funny.

I wish I could post pictures of that drum.. in fact I may have, I will look, but this is most likely a very early drum itself.. perhaps on of the first made of white Oak, a material he would run with for the rest of his life.

This drum is on up for sale on a popular auction site, good luck!

(upon further review.. perhaps these bands were retro fitted by matt smith.. here is apic of an old banded valje, and looks like he used thicker bands.. more info to come...)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Among all the incredible traditions brought to the Cuba from mother Africa, the Abakua are, to me, the most fascinating.

It is said, that there was a system of governance and nation expanding mechanism in the area of Nigeria that developed highly a ritualized process, in order to control and serve large populations of people spread over a large area.

From what I understand, when a new village was added to the kingdom, a house of Efik was built - housing the local chief, the medicine man, and the local priest. Basically a local government. The traditions of this governance tied all the houses of Efik together in a functional kingdom.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and the tradition and its nearly bizarre practice made its way to Cuba, becoming what we now know as Abakua.

here is a clip of the Ekpe people of Nigeria today, note the hooded dancer.. very similar to the Ireme, or the Cuban Abakua dancer above:

What is amazing to me, is that the goal and utility of this tradition, ie nation expanding, was not possible in the new world, as it was in Africa, yet the traditions defined in the African houses of Efik continue to thrive today as a system of social support and spiritual expression.

There is a region of Nigeria called Abakpa, and the word Abakua may have come from referring to the poeple from this region who practiced this unusual tradition in Cuba.

In Cuba, it is said that the traditions were nurtured and developed by the Cuban masons of African decent, creating a 'secret' society of Abakua that was hidden from the Colonial rulers of the island. I assume, to keep it unperturbed... as opposed to having to incorporate Catholicism, as in the practice of Santeria.

Here is an example of the practice in Cuba by my teacher Sandy Perez's family troupe, AfroCuba de Matanzas:

Only men are Abakua, and there are Abakua ceremonies that can be viewed only only by those initiated into the tradition. This brotherhood is a strong social support network, lending benefits and obligation to those who belong. The 'wives' of Abakua have an important role as well, of course, but are excluded from certain rituals, from what I understand.

The musical aspect of the Abakua tradition significantly influenced what we all know as Cuban Rumba, with the 'language' of Rumba sounding like a distant dialect of Abakua.

Here is a picture of a fascinating meeting in Nigeria, of the 'heavies' of Abakua in Cuba and the leaders of the Nigerian Ekpe - two cultural descendants of the same tradition together again. There is supposed to be a film about the congress as well.

This picture is including Roman Diaz, a high priest of Abakua, and one of the heaviest of Rumberos with whom I have had the grand pleasure of playing once upon a time - with Pedrito Martinez, Sandy Perez, Chris Walker and Carlos Aldama - probably the highlight of my Rumba life so far.. (he is in the second row, third from the right), and Roman in performance (wearing sun glasses)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Guiro - history and current practice

There is this intriguing religious and ceremonial form in Cuba called Guiro.

It is commonly played with three gourds netted with beads, a Guataca, or hoe blade used as a bell, and one conga.

Guiro is an amazing form that has roots in the 'indigenous' peoples of the Caribbean, the Taino. With what we know today about ancient human migrations around the globe, I think its highly likely that the human and gourd relationship predated this migration out of Africa, and the seed were carried around the world.

When Africans arrived in the 'new world', they were probably surprised to see the plant with which they were so familiar.

Here is a link to info about the Taino people and culture, a Taino water jug, a recreation of one of their villages:

According to this article, in ceremony, the Taino ingested the highly toxic seeds of the gourds to induce hallucinations and a deeper connection to the ancestor, and their spirits. The gourds must have been a deeply significant plant in their culture. They have so many functional uses for humans, it is said to be the oldest cultivated plant, dating back to the stone age.

Fast forward ten thousand years.. and the mixture of African, Spanish and American traditions manifest in what is now practiced as an important facet of Cuban spiritual life, the Guiro ceremony.

Here is a painting of the arrival of the Spanish, and the first cultural encounter of the Taino people, and their chief at the time, Agueybana. And a picture of women of Taino decent.

Perhaps the knowledge, and musical use of beaded netting around the gourd, was something that was brought to the Americas in the minds of Africans - manifested in the creation of the Chekere, or Shekere used today. Here is a beaded gourd called a Agbe from Nigeria, a Cubano from Matanzas sporting a sweet traditional Cuban Chekere, my Maestro Sandy Perez on Chekere, and a clip of the Guiro Ceremony practiced today in Cuba.