Candido Camero
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Candido Camero

Band Latin Jazz

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Candido Camero, the Havana-born 85-year old elder statesman of conga, is a living encyclopedia of the history of Cuban music. Born in La Habana’s colorful El Cerro neighborhood, Candido has appeared on hundreds of albums, including more than 50 as bandleader. He has worked with almost all of the great jazz masters, including Clark Terry, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Mongo Santamaria, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, and Tito Puente

Candido’s powerful style and technical flair enhance his obvious love for music. He began playing the bongos when he was child, and turned to the congas in 1940. By the time he was in his early teens, he was accomplished enough to work at Havana’s legendary Tropicana nightclub and Cuba’s leading radio station, CMQ. He came to the United States at age 25 with the fiery rumba dance team Carmen and Rolando and demonstrated an unheard-of conga technique: he kept a steady rhythm with one hand while improvising with the other, thus being the father of coordinated independence in Cuban drumming. This was also the first time anyone had ever played two congas simultaneously. As word of his new technique spread, Candido became in demand for jazz recordings. He also played with the legendary Machito and his Afro-Cuban Band and helped to pioneer the simultaneous use of multiple conga drums, as well as the fusion of Latin rhythms into jazz and mainstream American music.

In 1950, Candido demonstrated an even more spectacular innovation at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem with the Puerto Rican pianist Joe Loco: he performed on three conga drums tuned to specific pitches so that he could play melodies like a pianist. Loco’s famous recording of Tea for Two features Candido playing the entire melody on three congas and bongo. Thanks to Dizzy Gillespie’s pioneering efforts in integrating congas into jazz bands, Candido performed throughout the 1950s as a featured soloist with the Stan Kenton Orchestra using three congas, a guiro mounted to a conga and a cowbell attached to a bass drum pedal.

Candido was inducted into the International Latin Hall of Fame in 2001.