Tumbadora (or Conga drums)

Baji J. Ram Rao
19:00 +0530 Mon. 12-Jan-2015

Hindi film music orchestras use a set of three tall, narrow, single-headed drums hailing from Cuba in South America.
These are called Tumbadora (or colloquially Conga drums). The drummer who plays the Conga drums is called a Conguero.

These drums are originally of African origin. So they’re really Afro-Cuban. They came to the Cuban slums along with the slaves from Africa.

In the world of hindi film music, India, it was Rahul Deb “Pancham” Burman and his rhythm assistant, Marutirao Keer who first encountered the Tumba on a musical tour, doing shows in Africa.
Observing the Tumba player’s style and throw, Marutirao stood up and started playing the Tumba for next hour or so, to the rapt attention of the audience. And Marutirao and Pancham brought the Tumba to India.

It was first played in the song,
“आया हूँ मैं तुझको ले जाऊँगा, अपने साथ, तेरा हाथ थामके” for the film, Manoranjan(1974).
The song had a 32-beat(मात्रा) pattern, which would become legend!.

A set of Tumba, Conga and Quinto by Latin Percussion (LP)

Each Conga drum is usually 2½ feet tall. The more expensive drums have shells made of wood (Siam Oak). The low-end models have shells made of fibre-glass.


Conga drums come in 6 sizes, each with an individual name, depending on the diameter of the drum-head.

  1. The biggest, which is 14” in diameter is called the supertumba.
  2. Next comes the tumba, which is 12½ ± ½” in diameter.
  3. The next one is the eponymous conga which is 11½ ± ½” in diameter.
  4. Then the quinto whose drum-head is 11” across.
  5. Then the requinto: 10” across and
  6. finally the short and narrow ricardo, which is 9” in diameter.


In purely percussive settings, being percussive instruments, Congas need not be tuned to any particular note.

However, when playing with harmonic instruments, they may be tuned to specific pitches.
Each drum has one drum-head that can be tuned, using a screw-and-lug tension head system.

When there are 3 drums used as in Bollywood orchestras, they are typically, (from largest to smallest) the tumba, conga, and quinto.

Omprakash Gavand plays the Tumbadora, while Nair plays the Shaker.

On Mr. Gavand's right is a Dholak(ढोलक) resting on its larger head. A Dholak is a two-headed hand-drum. The pitches of the two heads are roughly a perfect 4th or perfect 5th apart from each other.

In front of Mr. Nair is a Tabla set -- its heads protected by quilted cotton pads. Such a set consists of a low-pitched Daggaa(डग्गा) and a higher-pitched tablaa(तबला). The Daggaa is made of brass and the tablaa is made of hollowed teakwood.

Five tumbadora tuned to a raagaa

Raul Rekow, percussionist of the band:Santana often plays five conga drums which he tunes to the opening phrase of a Latin tune.