artist some describe as "touched by the hand
of God," conguero Giovanni Hidalgo plays
a major role in shaping the way the world thinks
of hand drumming. With legendary percussionists
Tito Puente, Armando Peraza, Patato and the late
José Mangual, Sr. topping the list of his
most ardent fans, Giovanni and his natural talent
are bringing new respect to Latin rhythms as well
as to the rhythms of his birthplace, Puerto Rico.
prides himself on being "a man of all music,"
having performed with musicians ranging from Zakir
Hussain to Airto Moreira. He has toured
with jazz great Art Blakey and continues to tour
with Mickey Hart's Planet Drum. For several years
he was a member of the Dizzy Gillespie United
Nations Jazz Orchestra.
consider these artists my inspirations, rather
than my idols," says Giovanni. "I don't
imitate anyones style. I do let myself be
guided by those artists I admire. It is
myself that I have to answer to". The result
is an original, creative drumming style that,
in turn, makes Giovanni an inspiration to drummers
of all levels.
sounds other drummers normally create with sticks,
Giovanni creates with his handswith lightning-fast
precision. He is particularly admired by others
for his perfection of double and triple stroke
rolls, effortlessly implementing drumset stick
rudiments with his hands.
began playing "congas" on a little wooden
barrel his father gave him when he was eight years
old. "Knowing how to get a sound out of wood
helped me develop my stroke, and made my transition
to the conga head easy," he recalls. "The
skin surface of the conga has a much more comfortable
feel than the solid surface of wood, so I didn't
have to work as hard to get the sound I wanted."
first learned to play conga by taking the technique
of drumming with sticks and applying it to his
hands. "Then I sort of went backwards and
later played with sticks," he says. And living
in a home filled with the bongos, congas, and
timbales of his father and grandfather, who were
also respected congueros, Giovanni learned to
play all the instruments at the same time, rather
than in progression.
puts no restrictions or limitations on what he
can do musically with his hands. His fans credit
this phenomenon to Giovanni's remarkable ability
to incorporate his imagination, musical wisdom,
and life experiences into his work. "This
skill comes to me naturally, and helps my music
evolve," he explains. "I play the way
I feel, and I wake up feeling different every
skill also accounts for why Giovanni can play
alongside artists like Blakey, Gillespie, and
Changuito and complement their style, rather than
overwhelm it. "My goal during a gig is to
achieve musical unity and harmony," he says,
"so I remain loyal to a person's music instead
of influencing it or overpowering it with my own
first became popular outside his native Puerto
Rico in the early '80s during his work with Batacumbele.
Playing with this revolutionary group, which Giovanni
claims "will always be in my heart,"
helped launch him into the limelight. With the
release of Batacumbele's first album, Giovanni's
name and amazing hand drumming techniques became
known to musicians throughout the world.
the evolution of his popularity and style came
numerous opportunities in the following years
to travel and perform with artists such as Gillespie,
Charlie and Eddie
Palmieri, Jack Bruce, Dave Valentin, Paquito
D'Rivera, Cameo, Paul Simon, Art Blakey and
the Jazz Messenger.
first trip to Cuba was with Batacumbele in 1981.
Little did he know this was to be a turning point
in his career, for it was there that he met
Changuito. The two were so perfectly in sync
with each other that they immediately began creating
unique rhythms together. "It was as if this
was why I had practiced on that barrel at home
for all those years," says Giovanni. "And
I was thankful for it."
time in Cuba made a lasting impression on Cuban
musicians, who began trying to incorporate Giovanni's
original style of conga playing into their own
music. Prior to his visit, most of the bands in
Puerto Rico were playing salsa. "Then Batacumbele
hit the scene playing songo, and the listeners
went wild. We brought in a new musical era."
few years after that, Giovanni forged another
life-long relationship with a musical legend who
would also teach and inspire him. The artist was
Dizzy Gillespie. Giovanni met Dizzy one
evening at the Village Gate where he was performing
with Eddie Palmieri in the mid-'80s.
"It was amazing to meet a man of such talent.
I was honored when he suggested we get together
in the future and play together." In 1988,
Giovanni got the opportunity when Gillespie asked
Giovanni to join the Dizzy Gillespie United Nations
Jazz Orchestra. "Playing with Dizzy
was a wonderful experience in my life," reflects
Giovanni, "but I played differently when
I performed with him. I controlled myself onstage.
It was like I was being orchestrated by a great
few years later, in 1992, Giovanni began a four-year
teaching assignment as an adjunct professor at
Berklee College of Music in Boston. "I was
teaching and learning at the same time,"
he says. "I put together all types of rhythmsPuerto
Rican, Cuban, Dominican, reggae, African, and
country has its own musical essence, and every
individual within that country has their own musical
style, according to Giovanni. His objective is
to capture these whenever he plays. "I am
in synchronization with life, with people, with
nature. I try to be a part of all the things people
do in the world so my music can give them strength,
love, and faith. My gift to others is my love
of music, and I will give it until I die."
learn more about Giovanni Hidalgo, CLICK
and his son, Ian Manuel.