Candido Camero; a Latin Music Innovator


Influencing and evolving the way in which one of the most vital and fundamental instruments in Latin music is played qualifies 91-year old Candido Camero as a Latin music innovator.

His particular musical background may have helped him evolve the way congas were played. In addition, the fact of having played alongside two other great Cuban music percussion innovators also help shape his technique. Candido’s innovations occurred about the same time as other fundamental changes in Cuban music were also taking place.

Candido’s Innovations on Conga Drums

Candido had been a bass, guitar, and Cuban “tres” player before transferring to percussion. He also played alongside percussion innovators Luciano “Chano” Pozo and Ramon “Mongo” Santamaria. Both “Chano” and “Mongo” played originally with one conga drum, but each did it in ways it had not been done before. Candido may have fallen in love with percussion by watching “Chano” Pozo play the instrument.

Candido Camero with congas and bongo.
Cuban percusionist Candido Camero was a multi-instrumentalist that played bass and “tres” besides percussion.

Candido is credited as the 1st percussionist to play with 2 conga drums. After seeing what he could do with 2 congas, he went on to be the 1st to use 3 congas. By tuning the congas for different tones, he was able to create melodies with the congas. He went on to use up to 6 congas, but decided to scale it back to 3 congas because it was hard to travel with 6 congas.

Candido also came up with other innovations. He added a “guiro” to the mix, and could play the congas with one hand and the “guiro” with the other. For me it’s almost hard to visualize how someone can play the congas with just one hand, and then add to that the complexity of keeping a totally different rhythm with the “guiro” than with the conga. It blows my mind to think about it.

Mr. Camero also added a foot pedal, like the ones they use for the big drum with the trap drums. However, instead of a drum he used a cowbell or a “clave” in it. So Candido could play the congas, the “guiro”, and the cowbell or “clave” all at once.

Candido Camero Among Cuba’s Great Innovators

About the time when Candido Camero 1st showcased his 2 conga act in a trip to the US in the 1940’s, other greats of the Cuban music landscape were also doing some innovations of their own. Arsenio Rodriguez “El Ciego Maravilloso” was making some huge innovations in the format and sound of the typical Cuban “son”.

By adding the conga, the piano, and additional trumpets, Arsenio Rodriguez created the Conjunto. This resulted in the creation of the “son montuno”, a direct precedent to today’s Salsa.

Candido with Bobby Sanabria at Kenya concert
Candido was the only performer of the original Machito classic “Kenya” recording to participate in Bobby Sanabria’s “Kenya Re-visited”.

Also around the same time-frame, Cuban music legendary “son” group “Trio Matamoros” added a great singer to their top notch vocal lineup. Benny Moré joined and expanded the “Trio Matamoros” to participate with them in a tour of Mexico.

Benny created a very unique singing style, in which he would jump around the “clave” but always ending within its tempo. He also polished the art of improvisation in his singing style.

Candido Camero stayed in New York during his trip in 1942. Like his idol “Chano” Pozo, he played with Jazz orchestras. Arsenio Rodriguez also moved to the US later in the 1950’s trying to find a cure to his blindness. However Benny Moré stayed in Cuba and died at a relative early age.

Candido Camero Interview

Here’s an interview Martin Cohen did to Candido Camero. It provides a quick summary to some highlights of Candido’s career.

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  1. George says

    Awesome piece! Great information and an even more awesome video. I’ve seen others do the guiro/cowbell/conga before, but not with the ease and style like this. No doubt he is an innovator.


  2. Hector Aviles says

    Thanks George!

    Yes, Candido never had the hand speed that has been the hallmark of excellence the the last 15-20 years. But his rhythm ability and the sounds he can make with the congas are amzaing to listen and especially watch. I believe his background as a bass and Cuban tres player may have help him develop that musicality in his technique.

  3. […] to New York in 1939, and by 1942 formed his own band. In it he had at some time musicians like Candido Camero, Tito Puente, and Tito Rodriguez. Curbelo basically “retired” from playing and […]

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