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Born in Puerto Rico, New York based Paoli Mejias has worked with an array of artists in both the Latin and jazz fields including Luis Enrique, Marc Anthony, Tito Puente, La India, Seis del Solar, Dave Samuels, Alex Acuña, Dave Valentin, Danilo Perez, David Sanchez, Kip Hanrahan and Paquito D'Rivera. He toured the world with Eddie Palmieri with whom he worked for over eight years and has since formed his own ensemble releasing Mi Tambor in 2004.

The following interview with Paoli Mejias 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 Paoli Mejias via email.

PERTOUT: What type of exercises do you adhere in your conga development?

MEJIAS: All exercises of drum rudiments applied in the conga. I run regularly and always exercise and I work with the drum searching for the best sound in creating new patterns.

PERTOUT: Did you study with someone who guided you in their particular approach?

MEJIAS: The development of my technique I learned on my own. My teacher of bata was Jose Ramirez.

PERTOUT: Do you practice hands on the drum, with sticks, or on a tablita?

MEJIAS: All three!

PERTOUT: Do you incorporate all the family of drum rudiments?  Do you incorporating all conga sounds to drum rudiments?  Do you make up your own hand sound variations to the standard drum rudiments?

MEJIAS: All of the above that you mention are part of my practice regimen.

PERTOUT: Is the method based on a particular model?  Giovanni’s perhaps?

MEJIAS: At first yes, I applied many exercises of Giovanni, Changuito and other drummers. Over the years I've invented my own exercises as well.

PERTOUT: Have you worked on Changuito's mano secreta approach?

MEJIAS: Yes I have, and I've used it to develop other combinations of exercises.

PERTOUT: Are there any other approaches in evidence to you in terms of hand technique?

MEJIAS: I've spent a lot of time working out my own personal sound from my hands. I've taken the time to work and get the sound that I like.

PERTOUT: Who are the players do you feel that have changed this spectrum?

MEJIAS: Giovanni Hidalgo, Tata Güines and Richie Flores in terms of sound and technique.

Email Interview. 25 February 2007.

© 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.