Carlos Patato Valdes

Carlos "Patato" Valdes was born in Cuba on November 4, 1926, and lived in New York City since 1954. Tito Puente referred to him as "the greatest conguero alive today."

As a legendary conguero cubano, Patato was one of the most influential congueros (conga players) of our time, simply because he invented the tunable conga drum. Prior to his invention, the traditional conga consisted of a wooden body with a nailed-on skin drumhead. (NOTE: The drum was tuned by holding a candle beneath the skin, which obvious didn't give the best results because the drum skin would slacken as soon as it cooled down).

Patato came up with the idea of fixing the skin drumhead to a metal ring which was then connected at various points of the conga body. This allowed the musician to stretch and loosen the drumhead, tuning to specific pitches, with the help of a square box wrench.

Patato was also responsible for the modern conga playing. His invention made it possible to play each half step in an octave by only playing on one complete set of three congas (Quinto, Conga, Tumba). By employing multiple conga drums, Patato developed the melodic conga style which is now the standard modern style. Patato patented the invention, and the Latin Percussion company manufactured the instrument, known as the "Patato Model".

Carlos "Patato" Valdes played, toured and recorded with the likes of Cal Tjader, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Miguelito Valdes, Perez Prado, Beny More, 'Cachao' Lopez, Tito Puento, Machito, Herbie Mann, Kenny Dorham and many others. In 1991 "Patato" Valdes directly contributed to the 1992 movie soundtrack of The Mambo Kings.

In 2000 Patato compiled tracks from his two Ritmo y Candela recordings of the mid-'90s into one CD, The Legend of Cuban Percussion.

On December 4, 2007, at the age of 81, the legendary conguero cubano Carlos "Patato" Valdes passed on due to lung failure.