Candido Camero, a Cuban musician widely regarded as “the father of modern conga drumming,” died on November 7, 2020, at age 99.
Known professionally simply as “Candido,” he began his career in Cuba at age 14 and stayed active well into his 90s. Before Candido, congueros only played one drum, with bands typically having two or three conga players. But when Candido first came to the U.S. in 1946 to accompany Cuban dance team Carmen and Rolando, there was only enough money to hire a single conguero. So Candido played both a conga and quinto, keeping the basic groove on the conga and adding embellishments on the quinto. He eventually expanded his setup to three drums, tuning them to a chord in the manner of timpani. Later he added a set of bongos and became known for playing the melody of “Tea for Two” on his tuned bongos and congas.
Candido moved permanently to the U.S. in 1952 and spent a year working with pianist Billy Taylor in New York, adapting Cuban rhythms to American swing. He went on to work with a variety of jazz musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Tony Bennett, Woody Herman, Erroll Garner, George Shearing, Charles Mingus, and Quincy Jones. He appeared on hundreds of albums, and he recorded as the leader on Candido (1956) and The Conga Kings (2000). A documentary on Candido’s life was released in 2008, titled Hands of Fire.
In 2008 he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2009 he received a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.