CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

7 Potencias, Direct from Cuba, Tonight in SF @ Mission Cultural Ctr. in San Francisco 8pm

This is a clip of the performance, which was a warm and accurate expression of Cuban Folklorico from Santiago de Cuba. 

This is a must see troupe here for a short time.. Direct from Cuba! 
See you tonight!

7 Potencias presents a rich and vibrant culture from the lesser known part of eastern Cuba, known in Cuba as the Oriente.
This will be our first ever U.S. appearance! for a series of workshops and performances in preparation for the 15th anniversary of the company. 


Mission Cultural Center
2868 Mission Street, San Francisco 94110

November 15, 2013 8:00pm
November 16, 2013 8:00pm
November 17, 2013 3pm
Price:$22 advanced
$27 at the door


Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy High School.
Idigenous peoples's Celebration.
12:35 pm- 1:45 pm

Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts
1428 Alice Street, Oakland, CA

November 18, 2013 7:30pm- 9:00pm Studio E
November 20, 2013 6:00pm- 7:30pm Studio E
Price $18 advanced
$ 22 at the door

The Works Exercise
2566 Telegraph Ave Berkeley, CA 94704

November 19, 2013 6:30pm- 8:00pm

Mission Cultural Center
2868 Mission Street, San Francisco 94110

November 21, 2013 7:30pm- 9:00pm

ODC Dance Commons
Collaboration with Latin Dance Grooves
351 Shotwell St, San Francisco, CA 94110

November 23, 2013 1:30pm- 3:00pm
November 27, 2013 6:45pm- 8:15pm
November 30, 3013 1:00pm- 3:00pm

Urban Motion& Arts Studio
366 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610

November 26, 2013 8:00pm- 9:30pm
December 1, 2013 1:00pm- 2:30pm

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Conga and bongo restoration and repair - Spring 2013 Restorations

Here are some before and after shots of some recent projects.

These were all completed in the month of April, and just in time to clear the shop for the work that usually comes in after Carnaval.

I will do a post about Carnaval here in a minute.. lots of content to sort through...


These project were very involved and challenging.

The Sol, with such a violent trauma, had to be done just right, and invisible without refinishing the drum.. very fun..

This Oak Gon Bops Tumba was painted with no less than four different colors of oil base paint.. so much that it seemingly added a few pounds of weight to the drum..

..and who knew such a gem was underneath?

This happens to be my favorite shell ever made in California.. it is the thinner of the two Oak shells that Gon Bops made. The ones with the bands were often thicker shelled and dont sound as nice to my ear, are a bit more heavy, of course, so they dont play as comfortably.. although those drums are also some of the best sounding congas ever made.

This Oak Tumba sounds incredible... one of the nicest sounding tubs Ive played.. super smooth, with fat projection... nearly plays itself.

And this set of Mahogany Gon Bops from the 70's were nearly falling apart.

Its is a set of three that were finished in the stock Foxtail look, and had to be refinished with tenderness as the shells were quite thin for some reason.

The 10.5 was nearly kindling, and took every bit of skill I have to get together. It nearly died twice in the middle of surgery... had me sweating, stressing and cussing at the gods that are in charge of curing time...

I am so happy to report that the drums, as they are today, look as though they have not been restored, but original out of the factory... I was amazed that they came together so nicely.. and sometimes you have to wait and see what you have when you unwrap all the binding..

Anyway, on to the next round of projects.. a Valje ashiko from the SF factory needs a new head, a Mahogany Gon Bops quinto in bad shape, a Master's huge Ghanaian Drum that needs a lot of work, and a hard working Oncolcolo/Omele that has splitting issues..

Here are some other restorations of the past, Im not sure if they were posted before, but thought you might like to see them here..

Friday, May 24, 2013

CongaDr Cuban Cajons in development

Master Cajon maker Enrique Carreras and Maestro Sandy Perez

Well, I'm just about to do a post about my new shop in Berkeley, in the process of converting a garage into a wood shop with a clean room.

You really wont believe how good a setup this is... comes nearly stocked with every tool one needs.. I mean nearly every tool one can possibly need. The onsite toolset looks to be a lifetime collection of a very handy and talented craftsman.. and the shop is only a few pieces of machinery short of a full production ready setup. This may happen rather quickly.

Immediately, with all the equipment at hand, I am starting a CongaDr line of instruments. 

Ive asked Irish Rick to come consult, as he worked with Enrique Carreras on several Cajon projects... and has done a good amount of trial and error discovery himself. We are going to hit a lumber store and run some stock through a table saw, talk about jigs and fences.. dimensions, materials.. working it all out.

I'll have some prototypes built in a minute, and plan on passing them through some world class hand for some feedback. I have several people in mind for the R and D prototype tryouts, to definitely include Carlos Aldama, Sandy Perez and Pili Martinez to start..

There are no good sounding Cuban Cajons on the market.. and lots of Cajons that that are sold just dont sound right at all for Rumba.

In other words, there is a very specific sound the Cuban Cajons in Cuba make, and its not the sound that is made by the Cajons on the market.. even the ones sold as Cuban Cajons.

I dont think many people who are making these Cajons actually play Rumba with Cuban Rumberos.. lol.. you would think that would be somewhat necessary.. but Im happy to start filling this need.

The Cajons from Cuba, and the ones Enrique Carreras made, have a very specific sound, shape, construction, kind of materials.. its not easy to produce if you dont know whats up.

I will be running a series of posts about going into production.. should be fun to read.. its all very exciting.. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Wagner Profeta Santos and Banda Cafofo at Capueira Arts in Berekeley 4/27 9pm-2am

New on the scene, a really fun and professional Brazilian project hitting gigs around the bay these days, playing Pagode and Samba to writhing throngs of beautiful dancers..  The project, Banda Cafofo, has a very relaxed and playful repertoire of Pagode, developing into hard hitting and fierce Sambas late in the night.

The band includes one very talented percussionist in the Brazilian scene here in the bay, Wagner Profeta Santos. 'Wag DoGroove' on the web, he is one bad ass Conguero, and shreds the nearest Timbal with blazingly fast licks. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform with his other project, Sambada the other night.. an awesome show.. really fun..

Wag totally shreds when a lead player.. and slips cleanly into the pocket when the sound demands a team play.. He has a very graceful and comfortably musical style, often singing, playing several peoples parts.. and smiling big enough for the entire band... When spotlighted, he quickly steps up with powerful and emphatic solos.. a clean blend of technique, solid musicianship and raw emotion.

 but you can see.. the Brazilians are not short on smiles.. lol. Here he is pictured on the right here, with band members Pablo Mello, project founders Tony Santos and Claudinho Smile

Claudinho, leading the project, sings and plays Cavaquinho, which is one of my favorite instruments to hear.. it just makes you smile, for some reason.. I bet you cant play the blues on that instrument.. it just wont cry with you.. ;) ... well.. Im sure Muddy could have used it.. but anyway.. 

Wag has found a fun group of cats, and a steady gigging project to showcase his talents... 

The cat is so humble, and rather young, so we may have the great fortune to see him play.. for years here...

Its so fun to have such talented players who call the bay home.

Here is short clip of his class at Brazil Camp, somewhere in northern California, you can see the kind of positive vibes he brings to his work...

 and a clip of a performance they had after the workshops..

One night its Havana, the next Saville.. and tonight... SAMBA!

See you in Berkeley at Capueira Arts,
1901 San Pablo Street, Berkeley, California 94702
9pm - 2am.. bring your dancing shoes.. and all your friends who own shoes.. 

Wagner Profeta Santos and Banda Cafofo at Capueira Arts in Berekeley 4/27 9pm-2am

 Sorry, here is the updated post - Wagner and Banda Cafofo

One night its Havana, the next Saville.. and tonight... SAMBA!

See you in Berkeley at Capueira Arts,
1901 San Pablo Street, Berkeley, California 94702
9pm - 2am.. bring your dancing shoes.. and all your friends who own shoes.. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Vintage Bongo restoration, Candido Requena in Cedar

Candid Requena bongo restored by Tony Stearn - on the rumba blog tony's conga adventures

This was a fun project, although the money got kind of funny at the end...

There is this family in what we call 'south city', or Daily City/Colma area, who has a Patriarch bongocero who brought this set direct from Cuba back in the day. It was made by the legendary drum maker Candido Requena.

It was purchased at the legendary music shop Solis, in Havana Cuba back in the late 50's. Ive seen this label on several different instruments...  

The set originally cost $11 US, no doubt, so this must have been before the embargo, I think.

cuban bongo on the rumba blog tony's conga adventures

Working on a set made by Candid Requena is an honor, even if it is a set that was meant for the tourist trade and not really built for the professional player.

bongo from cuba on the rumba blog tony's conga adventures
Cedro, great sound, soft wood
 The goat skin wasnt functional, even back then, the hardware and shell are not built to last, or to be heavily used by a gigging professional. You actually see a few of these a year, for sale on the internet.Candido made other, very fine and high end instruments for the top professionals of the day, as seen below. Here is other examples of his work: Candido Requena congas on Tony's conga adventures

Perez Prado on a Candid Requena Conga back in the day

But with the Cedar shell and the masterful maker.. we try to get this set to perform, and not just be a good looking trinket of days gone by. And in this case, it was an 80th birthday gift for a well bongocero from south city.

Cuban bongo restoration - CongaDr - conga skins and repair on the rumba blog tony's conga adventures

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Vintage Banded Valje Congas, very old set

Now here is one vintage set of Valje Congas, to say the least. This is one of the first sets made by the legendary drum maker Tom Flores. 

In all the years Ive been working with these instruments, touching over 50 set of Valje Congas...

I have only personally seen one other Valje Conga that was older than this beautiful set, which must have been one of Tom's first oak creations.

Here is a very old set made of Mahogany.. and with the walnut one-off I saw.. it looks like he was experimenting with woods, finally choosing the quarter sawn Oak we know and love.

Who knows, the sound of this set may have influenced him to choose oak.. or perhaps the ease of working with the material, or its durability..

Its amazing to see his thought process through his art that remains with us today.

This reminds me of the memory his daughter told me, about the smell of saw dust in her fathers shop being one of the profound and durable memories she has of her famous father. That memory may have been entirely different, had he chose to work with walnut, or cherry..

Back in 2000, I took a quick snapshot of what I believe to be one of Tom's first drums, a walnut banded quinto with very distinct, but crudely welded Valje hardware not nearly as refigned as this set.

The hardware may have been crude, but it was all Tom Flores. It also had near diamond sideplates, if you can imagine the sideplate looking symmetrical, with the same pattern as seen on the lower half of the sideplates he eventually used, repeated on the top half, if you follow me.. Not an exact diamond, but distinctly similar to what Maestro Flores ended up using, as seen here.

I can see the design improvement in going from his original semi-diamond design, to this sideplate.

It was clearly Tom's first, if not nearly a first go at making a drum with hardware. I could easily see Tom's hand in that work, even back then. It had bands exactly like this drum.. this aluminum stock, as bit more wide in dimension than, say, gon bops bands..  It was all Valje, probably born before the name.

The old cat who had this, what may have been the original Valje quinto in Walnut, was out at Mosswood Park in Oakland. And by only asking "where did you get this?", he said he bought it from a guy named Tom in LA who made it in his garage...

That snapshot, I simply have to find.. it was taken on one of the first cellphone cameras, all jpged.. its on a crashed computer that needs to have its data extracted.. But I will try to eventually post that pic, as this is certainly Latin drum history going on here...

You can see in this set, that the crowns are not the same gauge, with the conga being a big thinner.. I bet all of his drums after this set had the thicker crowns, all following this old quinto on the left. 

Amazingly, this old Oak set even had the original hand made stands... Quite a find.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tony D the Drumologist - Folklorist from Trinidad

The depth of talent and experience here in the bay is continually astounding..

You never know who has deep roots, as there are so many talented percussionists here.

We know this cat as Tony D, aka the drumologist.  I know him as a very talented trap player.. mostly hitting ska and the like..

He would come to the Rumbas from time to time, sitting in.. was always respectful of everyone and overly humble.. even though he is probably over six four or something.

Once, after a Rumba hit, we were outside.. cooling off... Trevino and Tony D busted out some Sabar drums.

And that is when I realized that Tony D. was deep water. Since then, Ive only seen him lay down his Sabar chops a few times.. entirely enough to know just how top-notch a percussionist this cat is.

Then I come to find out the cat grew up among very thick African culture in Trinidad, nearly similar to the Yoruban traditions from Cuba, Brazil, etc.

I just love how the traditions from the old country are so accurately expressed by so many distinct cultures in the new world. I guess you can add the bay to that list.

The bay is host to much talent, but knowing more about this artist, opened my eyes to just how much I dont know about the cats in the scene. 

Tony D. is beyond talented... but so unassuming and kind, it took me a while to figure out that he has many years of deep experience, reared in a powerful and prominent folkloric family in Trinidad. In fact, his relatives are of great religious importance on the island.

You can see Tony as a younger man, playing in Ceremony in the clip below.

This documentary is about his Aunte Iya Rodney, or Iyalorisha Melvina Rodney, who, amazingly, was the High Priestess of the Orisa Religion in Trinidad and Tobago.

There are many academic sources confirming her status, but the most prominent source was Cultural Anthropologist Frances Henry, who wrote about her in his work Reclaiming African Religions in Trinidad. And in this third source, she is actually used to define the highest rank of Iyalorisha.

If even the 'square academics' knew her as the religious leader, she must have been nearly Pope-like to her people.

Friday, February 22, 2013

John Santos Recording Project Fund Raiser

Our fearless leader is again, pushing the development of art and culture in the bay area.. this cat will be legendary, when all is said and done.

Well, I can tell you, that this gentleman is among the most honorable men in the bay area. A dedicated artist and family man, highly talented and extremely experienced.

To be serious about it.. if there were more people like John Santos, the world would be a more peaceful and prosperous place.

If the values of this culture were alined with art and music, John would be a national hero. And that is why I half jokingly call him 'our fearless leader'.. the cat is a great example of how to be an artist in the bay area, and its a bit amazing how he pulls it off with such grace.

So, Maestro Santos has a new project in the works, and he is actively fundraising for "Filosofía Caribeña 2".

John has a matching grant and has collected half of the needed funds.. so far, he has collected around 7000 and needs another 7000 or so to make it happen.

..and I know I have wealthy fans, who with the flick of the wrist, can enrich the community with such an amazing project, and have a significant role in the history of the legendary John Santos.

You see, John has a great chance to win a Grammy, and this may be the very project that gets him over the top.

Some people dont know the story, but John was nominated several times for the Latin Jazz category, only to have this category axed from the awards program lineup.

Just recently,  the ultimately wise and beautiful people at the Grammy awards decided to reinstate the category.. and it was ON!

John is a front running candidate for the award, and you may have the opportunity to fund the exact project that gets up on the podium on Grammy night.

Anyone can donate, even small amounts, to have a piece of John's recording project directly HERE

Update: 3/13: The project funded! just under the wire, with a few hours to go before losing all the funds, a few gracious people came in and brought us over the top, with $15,400 donated. Well done all!