Drums and friends and friend's drums

These past two weeks has seen quite a bit of drum trading for me. Something I haven't done in a while because I enjoyed all my drums and was quite attached to them. But perhaps there was a reason I decided to do so at this time.

First I got an incredible deal on this vintage set of Cosmic Percussion Matadors. Matadors are like the de facto beginners drums, and they can be seen on a professional stages as well. Matador's are now made by LP who bought out Cosmic Percussion. This pair was the original and for the price of $150 for the set from a guy just 6 blocks away, I couldn't pass it up, even though the last thing I needed was more drums. So I kept them for about two weeks, and they were a nice set of drums. The skins were the original and made from cow. In the end I just did not have room or the need for the set, so I sold them to a man who bought them for his 13 year old son to learn on.

The next trade saw me selling my old vintage Gon Bops conga. It was a nice drum, in very good shape, oak, but the 10 3/4" inch head was just a little small for me. It was a little hard playing this drum with two hands; my hand would overlap playing tumbao and such, though it was fine for rumba. Anyways I put this one up for sale and wouldn't you know it, but the conguero I bought it from, my friend Will Perez, contacted me and wanted to buy it back. Seemed Will had gotten a perfectly matching quinto for it. So the drum went back to it's previous owner, probably the best place for it as Will takes better care of his drums than anyone I've ever seen.
Will's Gon Bops quinto with the conga I sold back to him.
Well as Will was picking up his returned Gon Bops conga, we started talking and I asked him if he was interested in my vintage Valje bongos, and he was. I needed to get rid of some drums to make room for my Isla bata, and this little Valje bongo just did not see as much playing time as my others. I knew Will had a nice pair of vintage Valje congas and he would give these bongos a good home, but I was hesitant because these bongos have a story.......

Seems this pair of bongos used to belong to Mala "Mana" Rodrigues who used to be the bongocero in a kind of San Francisco girl salsa band called "Orquestra Sabrosita". I had bought these bongos from Mala's partner in Oakland who told me the story. Sadly Mala had been killed riding her bike in San Francisco about 20 years ago. The bongos had been sitting in  the closet since then and I guess the current owner decided they needed to be played so she sold them to me. Coincidentally my friend Maria Medina was the conguero and singer for this same band and knew Mala well. I mentioned I had Mala's old bongos and had her play them one night at Club Deluxe here in town where I play jazz to poetry at The Word Party. Maria Medina was also a mutual friend of Lisa Forman who recently passed as well, there is a picture of them together on my post about Lisa Forman.

While discussing these bongos with Will, he mentioned he had a vintage Valje conga made in the 60's. Well that piqued my interest because the most prized drum in my collection is a vintage Valje tumba. The Gon Bops I had just sold Will used to be the match to my Valje tumba, and now I had a chance to replace it with a perfectly matching Valje conga, for the trade of my Valje bongos.

Well the deal was done and I couldn't be happier, though I was a little sad to see the bongos go and to no longer have a vintage Gon Bops. I'm just so partial to California congas being a Californian and all. However unkown to me at the time the Gon Bops would be quickly replaced.... 

My new Valje conga with my Valje tumba.
Will's Valje's with the bongo I traded.
 Now this is where the story takes a spiritual turn. I recently wrote about my friend Lisa's death and I wondered about the fate of her beautiful Gon Bops quinto. Well I was able to see, and play this sweet little drum at her memorial. My friend Oliver Hunt was there and brought his flute and a woman named Kristen was there who played didgeridoo. I gathered Lisa's drums, Kristen and Oliver and we played Afro-Blue in memory of Lisa; I had recorded this song with Lisa on didgeridoo and Oliver on flute about a year earlier.
Playing my friends drums at her memorial.
After this memorial I ran off to the rumba we were having for Lisa at Radio Havana. It seems I left a little early though. The next day I got a call from Lisa's friend Jungle who was in charge of Lisa's belongings. Jungle was trying to reach me because at the memorial he felt that I was supposed to receive Lisa's quinto. Jungle asked everybody how to get a hold of me and they mentioned my blog post which he had not seen yet. Jungle looked it up my post on Lisa and there were my comments about the very drum he was trying to give me! Jungle wasted no time in getting in touch with me and brought Lisa's Gon Bop quinto right over. It was with with tears that I received this gift. I was glad to have this memento of my friend, but very sad that she was no longer around to play it with her special touch.
Lisa's quinto is now with me.
Lisa Forman used to go by the username of Spirtdrum for her email, Facebook and forums. Looking back on all this now, it all seems more than a coincidence: I had made room in my collection for Lisa's quinto by returning one Gon Bops to my friend Will, passing on the Valje bongo of my friend Maria Medina's departed friend Mala 'Mana' Rodriguez to receive my departed friend's Gon Bops quinto without even knowing it was to be mine.  Seems I had put my Gon Bops up for sale on July 8th, the day after Lisa died.  Perhaps Jungle was right and Lisa's spirit really did want this drum to be with me.

Now I have Lisa's Gon Bops quinto, and it will be played again, by myself and her other rumbero and drum circle friends, but for right now I've put it away. It's just too soon and I need some time to heal first.


  1. I really like your blog, it's great! I posted a link to my facebook page, "congas and percussion" (http://www.facebook.com/groups/157599624373869/) please come join us there if you can as well :)
    Michael Pluznick

  2. Thanks for the plug Micheal. I've got a copy of your "How to play shekere" video. A classic!

  3. Hello Mike:
    Your stories are very heartfelt,man!I need your advice!
    I currently have a nice set of Moperc quinto and conga that would like to mate it w/a quality tumba,prefably a used one!Any suggestions?Ive been trying to locate SOL congas in the Bay area and Valje just cost too much,but are the best.Any help here?GOD Bless your blog!Tootyman.