In the heart of the oldest black barrio in Santiago de Cuba, Conga los Hoyos gradually grew quietly off the roots of Tumba Francesca El In 1902 Los Hoyos was officially recognized as the first Conga in the city although Conga Paso Franco – the not so quiet heirs of the magnificent and defunct Haitian dominated Conga de Tivoli – always bristle and contest this point about whom was first to usher in this big sound into the city of Santiago. Conga Los Hoyos then had their first showing in the great carnaval of 1915 which again gives pause to the exact when of the drum troupes birth. After slavery was forcibly abolished in Cuba, the barrio los Hoyos began to swell up with almost 100% of free people of color, black warrior soldier fresh from the fight for Cuban independence, freed slaves and the Haitian descendents of that islands revolution; a good recipe for powerful rhythms.
It’s nice to believe there is unity in a beautiful sound but this hope seldom holds long and so it was the case for Conga los Hoyos in the middle of Barrio Los Hoyos replete with disparate black social groups who often had little in common save their skin color and a want for something more. Thus, with these volatile ingredients in play, soon the musicians of Conga Los Hoyos came to a fiery crossroads over the direction of the sound. How does anyone determine what sounds good? What sounds best? These difference finally came to a head in the early 40’s when one of the first directors of Los Hoyos, who went by the nick name Chechereku, began basking in nepotism wanting only his sons and close relatives to be the starters in the visitations and great Invasion parade with the best drummers placed further back in the rotation used rarely and only as substitutes. Director Chechereku owned all the drums of La Conga Los Hoyos and so who could argue?With this deformed direction, Conga Los Hoyos soon lost it’s touch. Carnival after Carnival they lost in the competition with 3 years in a row finishing dead last. The best drummers protested and found a well connected, dedicated drummer and insightful director Andres Echevarria, who just turned 98 in February, 2011. But then, back in those years, Echevarria was electrico and friends with the Mayor of Santiago de Cuba Luis Casero – and asked him for a favor in support and money to buy Conga drums. Mayor Casero gave Echevarria 150 pesos and threw in all his resources behind the ambitious and communist Los Hoyos leader and soon Echevarria became director of La Conga Los Hoyos for ten years until he temporarily retired. Under his guidance La Conga Los Hoyos dominated the competition.
It is at this point in the 50’s with the fast black migration from all over Santiago into the growing Barrio of Los Hoyos for the call of the Bacardi Rum factory jobs that the ranks of great drummers in the barrio grew and grew. Some good drummers split from Los Hoyos eventually becoming La Conga San Pedrito because of the size of the Conga Los Hoyos and some quietly whispered Echevarria’s communist ties which, in these times, was certainly frowned upon (Los Hoyos was called the communist Conga which was then nothing nice to be called). Despite the loss of talent, Conga Los Hoyos soon became the venerable juggernaut of this wondrous fraternity of rhythm complete with a big bulls eye on their back (which is there to this day) as the other congas round the city planned and plotted and practice becoming become ingeniously inventive in creating new rhythms and sounds perfecting their sonic arts in a bid to dethrone Conga Los Hoyos from the pinnacle of the fraternal order of the ancient sound. Whenever Conga Los Hoyos roll out onto the street to play there are always hundreds to many thousands dancing behind them, in front of them, to the left, to the right surrounding their sound no matter morning, noon, or night. It is spectacular to witness.