Legendary conguero “Patato” Valdes dies

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Legendary conga player and Latin Grammy Award winner Carlos (Patato) Valdés has died of complications from emphysema. He was 81.

Valdés, a fixture in the New York Afro-Cuban music scene for more than 50 years, was hospitalized on Nov. 12 in Cleveland.

“He was an innovator, one of the last great Cuban drummers that came here in the ’50s,” said salsa bandleader Larry Harlow, who considers Valdés and Mongo Santamaría as the masters who brought conga drums into mainstream jazz. “He will be greatly missed.”

Valdés became short of breath during a flight home to New York after playing in San Francisco with his band Conga Kings, with renowned percussionists Cándido Camero and Giovanni Hidalgo.

“He told me that he couldn’t breathe,” said Camero, his longtime buddy, whom he met in Cuba six decades ago.

For over 60 years Carlos “Patato” Valdez demonstrated how a musician could combine technical skill with superb showmanship. His conga playing demonstrated the fusing of melody and rhythm, and his keen understanding of rhythm is rooted in dancing. Patato even mastered the art of actually dancing ON TOP of his congas during his performances, to the delight of the audience.

Valdez dazzled an audience well into his eighties with his rumba moves. He’s also is the man who gave Brigitte Bardot a mambo lesson in the film “And God Created Woman”. Valdez also expressed his understanding of melody through bass and tres, the Cuban folk guitar.

Valdez’ understanding of melodic percussion was well ahead of his time and his technique required advances in drum technology. During the late 1940’s he helped develop the first tunable congas, as earlier models were tuned by the unwieldy method of heating them with a sterno can. His interest in design, as well as his friendship with LP Founder Martin Cohen, led to the development of the LP Patato Model Congas, one of the top-selling conga drums of all time.

It is Valdez’ spontaneity and charm that enabled him to draw audiences from vastly different backgrounds and cultures into the irresistible Afro-Cuban rhythms which he created. Patato will be remembered by all as a giant of a man, and his spirit shall live forever through his music.


There’s more on the great conguero here.

2 thoughts on “Legendary conguero “Patato” Valdes dies”

  1. Wish it was under better circumstances, but that picture is a Marty Cohen!!!

    I remember the show Differnt Strokes had a producer with then same name and my sister and I would get a kick out of it every time they showed the name in the credits.

  2. If you have a copy of the film “Calle 54” you can see him playing with that large number of percussionists. If you don’t, please acquire one-you will be glad you did/:-)

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