Giovanni Hidalgo congas, and percussion (Born 1963)
Giovanni Hidalgo is the most highly sought after conga player on the planet. He has recorded, played and toured with most of the top musicians in the Latin, and jazz realms. His mastery on the congas is unrivaled, and he is in a class by himself.
Giovanni was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1963, into a family of well known conga payers. His grandfather played, and his father was Mañengue Hidalgo, who was in the band of Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz during the golden age of salsa. Giovanni was surrounded by percussion instruments his whole life, and started to play on everything as a small child. By age eight his father made him a small conga out of a barrel which he played on continually. He picked up the nickname Mañeguito, as he was always around musicians especially percussionists. His talents continued to develop as he grew older and by his teen years was quite good.
While still in his teens, he sat in on a practice of the band Batacumbele, which was directed by local percussion master Angel “Cachete” Maldonado. After what turned out to be a three day drumming marathon, he was in the band, he has never stopped since. He would record several albums with Batacumbele (which means “to kneel before the drum” in Yoruba) in the early ‘80’s. These records are still referred to and respected in Puerto Rico as a very innovative band with a strong Afro-Latin sound.
He traveled to Cuba with Batacumbele in 1981 in what would be a pivotal point in his career, as there he would meet and play with Cuban conga master Changuito. He would go on to interplay with Changuito and other Cuban congueros, and they all influenced each other. The Cubans were quite impressed by the young Giovanni (they are not easily impressed) and have a high regard for his talent and approach to the drumming, which in Cuba is an art of the highest standard. They returned to Puerto Rico with a new “songo” beat that blew everyone away.
His reputation as a conguero grew, and by the mid ‘80’s he was playing with Eddie Palmieri, and many of the best Latin players in New York. It was then he met Dizzy Gillespie who was so impressed by his talent, he would be asked to join the United Nations Jazz Orchestra in 1988. He stayed and toured with Dizzy for several years. In 1992 he was on the staff at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, where he became a percussion professor until 1996. It was in 1992 he released his first solo effort as “Villa Hidalgo” (Pimienta).