Down the cobblestoned hill just outside one of the founding Barrio’s of Santiago De Cuba – Los Hoyos – the Bacardi Rum factory opened it’s doors in 1862. They had jobs. People desperately needed work. It’s an old tale one can tell anywhere in the industrialized world; desperate people do desperate things moving towards whatever direction will quickly dispel their woe and ameliorate their time. The starved people came from all over the city for the work in the factory and soon came from all over Santiago for the work at Bacardi and though the old neighborhood of Los Hoyos had long ago run out of room to house the Tsunami of new faces, the people still came and kept coming living wherever they could find space to lay their heads, building structures they called homes with whatever materials they could get their hands on to simply keep the rain out and the sun off till they could make something better.
As the Bacardi factory grew larger, the emerging shanty town next to Los Hoyos busted the Barrio boundaries as it grew and grew extending on into forever as more and more people emigrated to the area for the new work supporting the now entrenched workers in the rum factory. This shanty town soon took on a name of it’s own, known round town as Barrio San Pedrito; a very poor neighborhood comprised of hustling black folks trying to stay afloat scratching a living from the meager pay from the factory or from the needs of the folks with meager means who were working in round the factory. San Pedrito, the poor cousin to Barrio Los Hoyos, grew so quickly at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century basic services like level streets, electricity, clean water, and proper sewage, could not keep pace with the needs of the people as city planners tried to figure what to do and how best to do it in this exploding Barrio. And then when Bacardi was run out of town, as with many places filled with the desperately poor, the residents of San Pedrito resigned themselves to never seeing some of these services arrive. Even today there are frequent blackouts, fresh water only in some parts of the barrio on some days, dirty roads and a sewage system always in disrepair so often the inhabitants are forced to walk over and round raw sewage on the sidewalks gathering in the gutters of the street.
Originally being a part of Barrio Los Hoyos, naturally the great drummers from all around the state of Santiago living in the environs gravitated to the venerable Conga Los Hoyos making the newly minted Conga into an instant powerhouse rivaling the then best Conga in the city – Tivoli. With the infusion of people there were really enough outstanding drummers to form 20 congas but they had only one. Some say when a conga leader stays too long he starts to pick favorites that often has nothing to do with the sound of their beat – excluding others who play with more heart and spirit. In 1947 when the los hoyos director wouldn’t let the drummers from near the Bacardi factory play, they decided to form their own group and thus Conga San Pedrito was born. The youngest of the 6 congas, San Pedrito is noted around the city for having the most innovative sound (such as their use of a snare drum) and perhaps because of their origins, nobody is sure – but it is said they play with a chip on their shoulder, feel overlooked and have a sizzling tempo only people from their own barrio can keep pace with in their dance and free flow chants.