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Mr Armando Peraza Is one of the most important and revered figures in the world of Afro-Cuban percussion. He has performed on hundreds of albums while his compositions have been recorded and performed widely. During his long and prolific career which has spanned more than sixty years Mr Peraza has performed and recorded with such artists as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Machito, Art Tatum, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, George Shearing and Santana among many others.

The following interview with Mr Armando Peraza was especially conducted for my Master of Philosophy in Music [By Research] thesis titled The Conga Drum: Development, Technique, Styles, Improvisations and the contribution of Master Drummer Ramon ‘Mongo’ Santamaria which I completed in 2008 at the ANU in Canberra. The thesis documents the conga drum’s historical development, investigates basic hand techniques and current technical hand developments, as well as the enormous contribution of master drummer Ramon 'Mongo' Santamaria, arguably the most influential player in the history of the instrument, exploring his percussive output as well as his ensemble, composition and arranging proficiency. I conducted this interview with Mr Armando Peraza via telephone.

PERTOUT: Señor Peraza where were you born?

PERAZA: I was born in Havana, Cuba.

PERTOUT: How did you develop your skills, did you study with anyone in particular?

PERAZA: I will be honest with you, no one showed me anything (laughs). I just got a conga and started playing. Then a friend of mine said "Armando I need a conga player" that was Conjunto Kubavana which at that time was one of the best groups. It was tipico Cuban music and after that I left with Mongo Santamaria for Mexico City.

PERTOUT: And who influenced you when you were developing your skills?

PERAZA: In Cuba many. There are phenomenal players like Tata Güines, Chano Pozo. I replaced Chano Pozo in Dizzy Gillespie's band. I use to play bongos in Chano's group in Cuba, just before he left for the US and developed that legendary union with Dizzy.

PERTOUT: While in Cuba did you get a chance to play folkloric music as well dance style?

PERAZA: I was involved in lots of areas. And in the US and with Mongo I also got to play and record folkloric styles, you know rumba and all those kind of things which we recorded for the Fantasy label.

PERTOUT: When did you meet Mongo Santamaria?

PERAZA: I met Mongo in Cuba. I use to replace Mongo and he use to replace me. Then we went to Mexico City together. We lived in Mexico City together. We stayed in Mexico because there was a Cuban ballet called Las Mulatas Del Fuego, and we use to play for this group. I also got to play with a very famous orchestra at the time, the Perez Prado Orchestra. Then we travelled to New York together and split up when I moved to the West Coast.

PERTOUT: I have read about your trip with Mongo Santamaria from Mexico to the US in the late 1940s could you tell me about that?

PERAZA: Oh it is correct. I was with Mongo in Mexico and we travelled to the US and specifically to New York in 1949. And then in New York I got to record with Machito’s band Machito & His Afro Cubans. Then I got the privilege of playing with Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich. I made all these albums, then I recorded a few things with Tito Puente and then I also played with the George Shearing Quintet for many years. I moved to San Francisco and played with Cal Tjader for many years. In Los Angeles I played with Peggy Lee, she was a movie star. I also recorded with Stan Kenton.

PERTOUT: What type of congas do you prefer?

PERAZA: Let me explain the way I see it. If you can play, you can play on anything. We use to play often on cajones you see the cajon in Flamenco styles now, you see? I can play that. I can play on any surface. If you play on wood it actually helps you, then when you play on the skin its nothing. You can control it. To learn to slap for example, in order to develop it properly you should do it on a low conga, the tapao, the dry sound. If you learn to play on the cajon is beautiful, you develop your power. It’s better to start on one conga and dominate one conga first.

PERTOUT: And skins?

PERAZA: I prefer to play on any animal skin. The new synthetic heads are too tough on impact. There is no bounce in your hand, its stiff.

PERTOUT: How do you see Mongo's influence on congas?

PERAZA: Well Mongo was one of the top, he was one of the foundations. There is also Francisco who is phenomenal and the folkloric side of Francisco is incredible.

PERTOUT: And how are things for you in San Francisco these days?

PERAZA: Well I am representing LP, they have some signature congas in the market place, hope you get to see them over in Australia.

Telephone Interview. 2 July 2005.

© Alex Pertout. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior written permission from the author. This article forms part of the thesis ‘The Conga Drum: Development, Technique, Styles, Improvisations and the contribution of Master Drummer Ramon ‘Mongo’ Santamaria’ which was submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Philosophy in Music [by Research] Faculty of Arts, Australian National University.

© Alex Pertout. All Rights Reserved.