The history of the beautiful percussion Conga drum is somehow confusing… as well as the present of it!
Let’s start with the present: the name “conga” is wrong, assuming that you pronounce it the right way.
What is called conga in English, is actually a rhythm that is played in Cuba during Carnival.
To have a better idea of what is “conga” in Cuba check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJp3SEyapgY
The term that is used in Cuba and in the Spanish world to refer to the percussion conga is tumbadora.
About the pronunciation, the right one is CONE-gah, not changa or koonga… you can check out this funny video I did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H214tLvmnFg
Many articles and studies are pointing out to either Central Africa origins (from the Congo area as the name let us think!) or Cuban descent.
Possibly, the conga develop in Cuba during the black slavery as an attempt, by a mix crowd of different cultures and heritages, to recreate drums traditionally used in Central Africa called “makuta“… so we can see the conga or tumbadoras as an evolution of something that was already existing in a different form.
During the 20th century, people started traveling more and more creating once again a phenomenon where different cultures, traditions as well as music and music instruments were exported and imported across countries.
That’s how Cuban rhythms and instruments became popular in USA, with the increased popularity of the Latin music.
The Spanish name of tumbadora is still used in Latin songs and among Cubans as a more respectful name, as conga is somehow considered a commercial invention made in US.
Years passed, and we arrive to the 1960′s Latin scene, when the latin percussion and congas were influenced by politics decisions…
At that time, US government imposed a trade embargo against Cuba, making difficult for the growing Salsa and Latin scene to find good instruments to play on… this is where the history of famous music manufacturers started, like the world famous LP Music just to name one.
The most comprehensive article I found about the percussion conga history is this one from Nolan Warden: