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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bongos and Berets

Sweet fleet beat of the street
Rising heat
From the white of the sidewalk
And the conga sound of the
Bonga bonga bongos
Every spring they sprout like toadstools
In the key of heat
--Ruby Tabeata


Greenwich Village, 1958. 


(Passing the school on West 11th, I get nabbed by two ladies from the burbs. And hey, this is Ray. Not Ruby.)  

Really? See, I play saxophone. I don’t really know all that much about— you know why that bugs me. Everybody and their sister thinks that’s all we do down here. 

And yeah, there are cats playing them, sure. But that’s not what I do or what my dad does or what you’ll hear at jam sessions.

Anyway. People come down to the village and think all they’ll see are bongos and berets. I hate to clue you, but there’s other stuff too.

Jazz. Bars, caf├ęs. Parks, restaurants, parties. Storefronts, readings, plays. Bookstores.

Okay, anyway, (sigh). 


Bongos are African and Cuban, in origin I mean. Small drums with open bottoms. One is supposed to be macho (male) and yeah, it’s the smaller one. The larger one is the hebra (female.)

You play them by hitting the edge of the drumheads with your fingers and the palms of your hands. You can do other stuff, too, but that’s usually how you get your soundAnd no, congas are different. Taller, for one thing. Bongos are easier to carry.

You should really talk to someone who plays to get the ins and outs.

There’s a guy, uh, Jack Costanzo. He’s well known for playing bongos, by the way, so well known they call him Mr. Bongo. And guess what? He’s not a Beat.

You can hear a lot of good music in the Village, though. If you want. Then again, you can go uptown too. Not midtown, ma’am. I mean Harlem.

If you want to hear drums down here, I’d say the park or something. You can always hit a party, but I can’t tell you when and I’m not bringing tourists. Sorry, it’s just not my bag.

Berets, too, huh? And you also want to score some leotards? Well, fashion’s not my bag either so you’ll have to ask Ruby for that. Or Cyn. She’s got a store around here. West Tenth Street, I think.

Good luck and I hope you find what you’re looking for.

( Lots of giggles before they split)

Okay, bongos. Sheesh. 


--Ray Tabeata

Young man: History Theatre