There have been relatively few changes to the basic design of the conga. Going back to the ancestral drums played over centuries in Africa, the idea is simple: a vibrating membrane (an animal hide) stretched and tucked over a long cylinder.
But Latin Percussion (LP) has come up with what may be the next major innovation in hand drumming. The LP Giovanni Compact Conga is marketed as a portable conga. Endorsed by and named after conga master Giovanni Hidalgo, LP’s patented design for this model uses an aluminum alloy frame to support an 11-inch synthetic-skin conga head. It basically looks like the top part of the conga without the resonator, which would be the drum itself. Imagine a drummer’s practice pad that is marketed as a drum that could be used on gigs or for woodshedding.
While the rich tones of a wooden conga, or even a well-made fiberglass drum, do not come out of the Compact Conga, the sound is still surprisingly good. The synthetic head allows for crisp open tones, full bass sounds generated by the palm of the hand, soft muted hits and even the traditional slap that is essential to the conga style.
The Compact Conga slides easily onto a snare drum stand, but a solid conga-playing technique-lots of wrist action and very little arm movement-will hold the Compact Conga in place between the thighs where a regular conga would be when played while sitting down.
In the 1960s LP changed the world for hand drummers with fiberglass congas, which were extremely durable and produced a distinct, full tone. Hand drummers around the world eventually made the LP drums a favorite and made the company a dominant force in percussion production. As always, time and word of mouth from drummers themselves will determine the fate of the Compact Conga: major innovation or historical footnote. However it is reassuring to know that the minds at LP are continuing to tinker with an age-old design.