If you are a lover of beautiful sounds then you would agree with us that those guys on the DRUM, that give music its spine and rive, its cohesion and contour and its huge chunk of personality – deserve to be celebrated. Okay, for the benefit of this interview, we did go into a search to know that the word, ‘Conga’ was derived from the Congolese Makuta drums commonly played in Mbanza Ngungu, Congo.
We went on to find out that there are amazing congueros (personalities that play the Tumbadora), such as; Ray Barretto, Milton Cardona, Lenny Castro, Joe Cuba, among others, who have thrilled lives; then enter our generation, Oluwatayo Ajayi also known as TAYO CONGA.
Tayo Conga is a graduate of Philosophy from the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria. He is a custodian of arts and culture, as well as a tourism advocates who specialize in African percussions. He founded the Tumbadora African Percussion Entertainers in 2015.
If you have ever seen Tayo and his group perform, you would agree that their strength is love.
“We always crave for excellent delivery by pouring out our passion, energy and creativity into our crafts. We pray together, we work together, we bear the pains together and we celebrate together. That is why we are The Tumbadora African Percussions Entertainers.” He told us while taking a walk to our seats during this interview in Lagos, Nigeria.
We started by asking him…
…Many people don’t or may not understand the ‘art of drumming’, walk us through what it means to be a Drummer
First of all, drumming is an expression of art which requires great skills to project and communicate good sound and rhythm. In the world of music, drummers are referred to as instrumentalists or percussionists. Amazingly, anyone can play or beat the drum, but what differentiates a good drummer from the average individual out there, who can simply just hit the drum, is the ability to infuse and sync creative beats or sounds into any genre of music. This requires great dexterity skills to accomplish, as well as a tremendous amount of continuous practice. To become a good drummer requires a great deal of sacrifice and self-discipline, just as I mentioned before, it takes a whole lot of continuous practice. A drummer is one who is aware that the drum is more than just a musical instrument but a powerful communication tool, which can be used to communicate and promote messages of peace, love and unity and off course, down here in Africa, drumming is often used as the major instrument for ceremonial celebrations, so drummer has to be happy person to project happiness in his/her beats during celebrations.
This passion started for you years ago, what ignited the whole love for it
I would say my late grandfather, who was also a drummer and then my father as well, who is also late, was a multi-instrumentalist. I chose drumming because I found out early in life, that drumming made me happy and saw it as an escape route from the harsh realities and experiences of the environment where I grew up. You see, I was born in, Ajegunle, one of the ghetto parts of Lagos state. Ajegunle, in spite of its ghetto setup, also inspired my passion for drumming as it is an environment where raw human talents abound and has over the years, produced notable artists in Nigeria. My first attempt at playing the drums started when I was only four years old, then, I began to play in the teen’s church at age eight. I continued playing performing at various events as well as entertain my peers who enjoyed hearing me play.
Who was your inspiration when starting and currently who do you look up to?
My major inspiration has and will always be God, as he is the one who gave me this talent. Also, legendary and notable artists such as FelaAnikulapo Kuti, Lagbaja, Miriam Makeba, King Sunny Ade, Orlando Owoh, Ali Farka Touré, Angélique Kidjo and E. T. Mensah are some of the people who inspired me as a younger drummer and still do. Currently, I look up to a great producer from Africa, the first African Yamaha ambassador, who was able to synthesize African percussion into the latest Yamaha keyboard.
You’ve performed at different events, places, countries, etc. – which performance was or had been the best for you so far?
I don’t really have any favorites, because I naturally enjoy playing the percussions. Especially the Conga Drum at anywhere I am invited to perform. But if I were to pick one of my best performance based the warm reception of the audience, it would be the performance I did at the “Les Holiday” – End of the Year Party with the American Consulates in Nigeria.
Which performance have you had and later felt sad that you didn’t do up to the billing and made you disappointed in yourself?
By the grace of God, most of our performances have been on top notch level. As human, no one is always perfect. But still we always try our possible best to satisfy our clients and audience.
As a Drummer and bandleader, what influences the artistry you give out to the public at every event?
Authenticity, staying true to who I am as an artist, my African heritage, and off course the dynamic creative side of me who likes to do something beyond the ordinary in an excellent way.
We’ve seen a lot of your performances videos, it’s a different vibe when you perform to the ‘white’ folks compared to the ‘black’ folks – which community do you enjoy to perform to, the most?
My mission is to explore every gifting of my drumming to mankind. Using my talent to promote peace, love and unity. I see every community as one community who is in need of a drummer to communicate happiness to them.
In 2019, you embarked on a nationwide tour inside Nigeria – how was the response and were you fulfilled with the outcome?
Every project is a journey. We are on a journey of fulfilling purposes. When there’s no pain, there can never be a gain. The response keeps improving every year. We actually started the journey of an African Heritage tour in 2016. When we embarked on the journey to Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort – a small town in Ekiti State, Nigeria, where hot water and cold water meets. In 2017, we enroute Badagry Slave trade Zone. In 2019, we experienced seven different beaches around Okun Ajah, Lagos state. In 2019, we went back to Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort. Our mission is to promote African arts, culture and tourism through the use of skilled and talented person.
This year (2020), you are continuing the tour and Africa is your target, tell us about it
Yeah! We are taking AFRICAN HERITAGE TOUR out of Nigeria for the very first time and we are glad to have our partners from different African countries. Our first stop is Ghana, and then we proceed to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
For younger ones with same passion, what would you tell them to do if they come to you for some advice?
I would say that contrary to what many Africans will say, there is a career in being Conga Drummer or a Multi Percussionist. Also I will advise that they get an education first whilst nursing their artistic dream on the side. Then off course, they have to work hard. I often say that people with talents have to work hard to grow their talent. Then attitude is everything in life, talent can take you so far but your attitude is what will keep you there. Also, they should maximize their potentials. Everyone has a unique gift. They should discover their gift and prepare to explore the world by having a direction. They should always remember that the race is not for the swift. Like my mentor will always say, “speed is irrelevant without a direction.”