The conga drum originated from the continent of Africa. Its very name reflects its native homeland, the Congolese of Africa. Although its form and materials have changed over the years, its shape remains conical or barrel like.
From African woods, materials in today's congas are available in fiberglass and carbon mixtures. Just as in the shape, the conga covering or skin has changed over time. It was originally made from rawhide available in Africa. Although rawhide still remains the most acoustical of the coverings, synthetic heads of plastic or other materials are used too.
They are usually played in sets of two to four with the fingers and palms of the hand. Typical congas stand approximately 75 cm from the bottom of the shell to the head. The skin head or covering of the original congas used to be nailed to the wooden shell. Before performers would start a session, they would heat a brazier and warm the skin to get the desired tension. Nowadays, the skin is attached by a set of rings and tuning lugs.
A performer can adjust the tension at will. Three conga head sizes emerged from the conical African drum. The name of the head sizes gives insight to that drum's functions. For instance, even today, the names describe the drums pitch, tempos and rhythms it will play. Quinto, Conga & Tumbadora or Tumba are the three sizes. The Conga is the mid-range, medium head conga. It plays the middle parts of three-part rhythms and by far the most versatile and popular. The Conga size is sometimes called the Segundo.
Even today the Conga drums are being played in African groups, bands and orchestras. They will most definitely be played for the years to come as a rhythmical drum.