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Bongo drums, commonly known as bongos, are among the most known percussion musical instruments. Due to the extensive popularity of Latin music, the beautiful sounds of these drums are familiar to music lovers worldwide. Bongo drums usually come in sets of two, attached to each other. One drum is usually bigger than the other; the larger drum is known as the "hembra," which means female in Spanish, while the smaller drum is called "macho”, a Spanish word for a male.
Bongo drums are capable of producing upbeat and rapid music with lots of versatility. Like some other American drums, such as the steel drums, bongo drums are said to originate from Africa. They were originally brought to South America via the Atlantic slave trade. The West African countries on the coastal strip that is Nigeria and Cameroon had organizations that made use of three of drums known as "bonko". When these Africans were brought to South America as slaves, they brought these drums with them as well as their traditions.
This slave trade led to the evolution of a community known as the Abakua. The Abakua continued using the bonko drums, which eventually spread to other communities. It is believed that this was the origin of the Bongo drums is South America. The abakua community still exists up to date, and they still use their bonkos, which when joined resemble the common bongo drums. Bongo drums are usually made by combining several materials.
The bodies are built using wood, metal or other composite materials mounted on a hollow piece of timber. The top is traditionally made of animal skin. But with modern drums, the whole body is made using synthetic materials mounted on wood. During the early 90's, the bongo drum heads were tuned and tucked into their wooden bodies using a source of heat. But due to technological advancements and ideas, metal tuning lugs came into existence which made tuning the drums easier.
As mentioned earlier, bongo drums produce a high pitched sound with a fast tempo. When played, these drums are usually held between the player’s knees with the larger drum placed on the drummer’s dominant hand, which in most cases is the right hand. The drums can be beaten using palms, fingers, and even sometimes drummers go to the extent of using sticks and brushes to achieve a unique musical sound. Bongo drums can also be muted by placing one hand on the drums head while striking the drum using the other hand.
Some of the most popular Latin dance styles that use these Bongo drums include salsa, conga and the mambo. This instrument's ability to produce a broad range of music makes it essential for creating music for these dance styles. Infact, Bongo drums are mostly used as solo instruments in producing such music, an aspect that showcases how important these drums are.
Although bongo drums are mostly considered as Latin amerces instruments, other drums resembling them can be found in Egypt, Morocco, Ghana and other West African countries where they originated from. Drums in these countries are made of cow hide heads, but their bodies are either made of stone, wood or a ceramic structure. Bongo drums can be heard in traditional Spanish songs like Flamenco, probably because of the Spanish influence in this region.
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