Why I play the Congas Part 1

I know you may be wondering why there are no congas in this photo, but do not worry we will get to that…

I have been playing percussion now for about 13 years. Although I have an intense love for music and instruments from all over the world, the congas have a special and unique place reserved in my heart. For me, as a music lover, playing the congas is a calling. I love the violin, the piano, banjo, harmonica, guitar, etc. but the sound of percussion speaks to me on a personal intimate level that is hard for me to explain. For me the love of music is perhaps more about harmony than anything else. Thats why I love making music on everything from wine glasses to pots and pans (seriously). Of course I could go on about this and get really “artsy” and abstract in my explanation…but I won’t (at least not now anyways haha). The reason I wrote this blog is not only to share my love for a particular instrument or sound but to encourage someone else who may be a lover of all things percussion, or anything that seems to abide in obscurity for that matter. I have often wrestled with the thought that I was made to be felt as inferior by others since I chose the congas as opposed to the piano or guitar. I have come to learn that over the years this has been probably more my own insecurities than anything else. I have however encountered many people from all walks of life who play the instrument and feel the same way. I have met many people who have come to learn the conga or percussion as a secondary instrument and later fell in love with it. Or they started playing percussion in church because someone was already on the drums. I really don’t have either testimony. The conga was the first instrument I was serious about learning.

My love for the congas really started out as a love for the African style hand drums and World music in general. I am a worship artist and have been now for several years but initially my influences came from the likes of Paul Simon (Graceland) and Martin Cradick (Baka and Beyond), Gloria Estefan, James Taylor, Peter Gabriel, and probably way too many more to name (not to mention some that I may not know by name). These were my childhood influences and many included the sounds of world percussion. I was mystified by its infectious and visceral nature to make one want to dance. I still remember spending time with my father in the mall as an adolescent and the day he brought Martin Cradick’s “Baka and Beyond” CD home. It changed my life and set me on a course of discovery. Little did I know that for me the deep passion and inquisitive mindset I had towards world music was really a hint to my calling. It would be a transitional moment for me and during a time in my life where I was heavily searching for identity. To this day if I hear that CD I am instantly carried away to that time in my life, with all the emotions, and memories of the era.

At the time I was also ┬átruly in love with reggae music and the various cultures of the Caribbean. With the help of my father I made African style necklaces with carvings (by my father and I) and different color beads. I knew my family (the Garcia side) was from Puerto Rico but as I was growing up in Southern California and not around anything to educate me of the folkloric music of the island, my passion for it was not yet existent. In fact I didn’t even play an instrument at all. No, that would all come some years later. Music was to me something I loved but always approached as a lyricist; not instrumentalist.

Well, although I was falling in love more and more with the rhythm of the Afro-beat I was still completely ignorant to the drum itself (probably due to my overwhelming passion for sports mainly being track & field). Four months after enlisting in the Air Force at the ripe age of eighteen I was living in central Germany. It was traveling in Europe, where I would truly fall in love with the African drum and begin my journey into the world of Latin music more closely related to the land of my grandfather. I remember being on a trip to Spain in the city of Marbella and stopping off at a huge pottery store on the side of the road. In the back of my mind I was wondering if this place would have any type of drums but knew that was highly unlikely. As I walked through the isles of this huge pottery outlet I spotted it… high upon the top shelf; a beautiful handcrafted doumbek ( a Middle Eastern goblet drum). I pulled it down and brought it to the cashier and as the rest was history. Well I could go into detail on the rest but that would probably bore you.

That trip was the first time I can remember the passion to play the drum burn in my heart. On the way back to Germany we stopped in Venice, Italy. I remember staring through a large glass store window at a rope tuned african drum hanging from a display. The memory of it is still vivid and I look back on that time as the my conscious beginning of a road to discover the instrument I now love to play today.