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I've got a gorgeous set of bongos. They are round and creamy coloured with nice tight natural skins. If you're serious, never settle for plastic bongos.
If you look very closely you can see that one is slightly larger than the other, giving them different tones.
When you are seated, your bongos tend to be slung low between your knees, but when standing they are hoisted up higher using a special contraption. They can also be worn in a sling when you need support while walking, in a parade for example.
My love affair with my bongos began when I got my first set at age 13. I was a championship-class competitive Latin American dancer back then and as such, bongos were something very close to my heart. After all, Latin bongos are the originals and the best in the world.
At first, I only had a very small training set, but they gave me good practice and confidence to move on to full sized ones as I grew up.
Bongos can be stroked with the tips of the fingers, or tapped rhythmically with fingers and thumbs to produce soft, sensual sounds. They can also be struck with the heel or side of the hand and this produces a much louder, more strident sound.
Bongos fit in perfectly with the sensual, often sexual nature of Latin music, from the fast and jubilant Samba to the soft, romantic Rumba. They pulse with the rhythm of a heartbeat. Feeling the vibration of the skin in time with the music as you stroke and tap is a sensual experience in itself.
And now for a bit of history. These little beauties originated in Cuba in the 1800s and were very much part of the percussive sound of Latin music. In the last century, Bongos also became popular in parts of Africa, although they also have their own versions, which are unsupported and much elongated and actually reach down to the ground.
Bongos have also been a large part of American Jazz music, probably also due to the Latin influence. And in the last decade or so there has been a revival in bongo playing, due to their prominence in the Ibiza club music scene. You get a lot of bongos in Ibiza, you know, though most of them aren't real, but you do see a lot of them about.
A virtuoso player can coax the most incredible sounds from a pair of bongos using delicate strokes and finger rhythms. The sounds produced vary depending on if you stroke the outer parts of the skin, becoming more resonant as you move towards the centre.
The skin can be stretched by rotating the little tension knobs, which again causes a change in the pitch of sounds produced, but you must be slow and gentle when you twist them in case you damage the skins. Tuning is a delicate procedure that should be carefully taught and only attempted by an expert.
These days, there are a lot of synthetic bongos around, but natural ones are always best. It is easy for an expert to tell the difference between a plastic pair and a natural pair as they respond very differently under the hands.
A decent pair, by a professional maker such as Headliner, will set you back between £70 and £150 and will come in a variety of colours and finishes.
Unlike a full sized kit, bongos are easy to carry around with you. I like to get mine out at parties, as they always seem to start the evening with a bang. People love having a quick go on them and I enjoy seeing the pleasure on their faces when they realise how easy and fun it is to play them. To be honest, I think a lot of my friends only invite me to parties because of my bongos ;O)
So, I would heartily recommend any of you to get your own pair of bongos, or at least borrow some and have a play around with them. They are very easy to handle and will give you a great deal of pleasure. You can play by yourself or with a group, or even a duet is good, especially if you know someone with a horn - any kind of wind instrument will work well.
If you want to see my bongos, go to http://www.tech-mate.co.uk/percussion/bongos.shtml. Aren't they pretty? I bet you'd love to get your hands on a pretty pair like that, wouldn't you? Why not give them a try!
I wish you many hours of happy stroking!
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