In the late '90s, three heavyweights of Afro-Cuban conga playing -- Candido Camero, Carlos "Patato" Valdes, and Giovanni Hidalgo -- came together and billed themselves as the Conga Kings. All of them have impressive resumés in the Afro-Cuban and jazz fields -- especially Camero and Valdes, both of whom are regarded as elder statesmen of Latin jazz and what is now known as salsa (a convenient umbrella term that has been used to describe son, cha cha, mambo, guaguancó, danzon, and countless other rhythms that came out of Cuba). Born in Havana, Cuba, on April 22, 1921, Camero moved to the U.S. in 1945 and went on to play with everyone from Tony Bennett, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, and Dinah Washington to Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, and Machito. Meanwhile, the influential Valdes also grew up in pre-Fidel Castro Cuba. He was born in Havana on November 4, 1926 and -- after making the U.S. his home in 1952 -- went on play with many major names in Latin jazz, hard bop, and salsa (including Gillespie, Art Blakey, Herbie Mann, Kenny Dorham, and Quincy Jones). And Hidalgo is the youngest of the three; he is also the only Puerto Rican in the group. The son of percussionist Jose "Manengue" Hidalgo, he was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1963 -- which makes him young enough to be a grandson of Camero or Valdes. The jazz artists who have employed Hidalgo as a sidemen range from Dizzy Gillespie and Paquito D'Rivera to Brazilian singer Flora Purim and her husband, percussionist Airto Moreira. Coming together as the Conga Kings in New York in the late '90s, Camero, Valdes, and Hidalgo signed with Chesky Recods and recorded a self-titled album that came out in 2000. The Conga Kings' next Chesky release, Jazz Descargas, is an extroverted, hard-swinging Latin jazz effort that was recorded in 2000 and released in 2001.
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