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The Conga Joy Series by Bill Matthews -
New Conga Joy, Drum Talk and Drum Stories
Review by Eric Stuer

Bill Matthews has been running Freemont Drum up in Seattle since 1994, and his first Book Conga Joy, has become a classic. he has snce revised "conga Joy", now called The New Conga joy, and has added two more works, Drum Talk and Drum stories.

Each of the 3 titles is available in book, double CD, video, and DVD format. In the package we were sent for review, however, we got one from each category: The Book "New Conga Joy", the Drum Talk DVD and a CD from Drum Stories. This made it just a bit difficult to evaluate just how well the DVD and/or CD set integrated with the book in each case. For example, we especially liked the user friendly format of the Drum Talk DVD. Thirty-three duet rhythms are at your fingertips to see and hear. It is very nicely presented, and musically played. Excellent work. We are not sure exactly how the DVD integrates with the book, but we imagine it is well done.

The New Conga Joy

The New Conga Joy book was likewise full of usable material. Although the CD set or the DVD would have been nice companions, the book was still useful by itself. It's very handy for drum circle folks from beginner to intermediate level, or even as a quick reference for advanced players and teachers to use with their students and so on...

In this revised and abriged version of the (very popular) first Conga Joy, Bill does a decent job of explaining the box notation for those who are new to it, and he also does quite a decent job of explaining the required basic conga strokes, including muffled strokes and so on. [Keep in mind that these hand positions do not all translate exactly to the ashiko and djembe.]

He then presents a series of rhythms from Africa and the Caribbean, in usable and easily digestible forms, for one drum, for two, and for some rhythms a full ensemble score..

These are not all inclusive or definitive, mind you. Mastering the "Samba' rhythm as presented here does NOT qualify one as a master of the Brazilian Samba, for example, but it does provide a workable version for conga/ashiko/djembe, a doorway in, if you this sense the book serves a valuable purpose indeed for those who wish to see what there is to see. It is an overview, a sampler, rather than an exhaustive teatment of a single culture.

I will get a lot of use out of this book, and I recommend the series to percussion students and teachers alike.

Drum Talk

This addition to the line is very useful, especially in the DVD format. A series of 33 two part rhythms are introduced in a very easily accesible format. Highly recommended. We have already personally suggested this title to quite a few folks.

Drum Stories

We recieved CD #1 of the Drum Stories title for review, and to be honest, we felt a little more like we were only listening to accompanying examples, long phrases repeated three or four times during the track with a cowbell metronome. Perhaps the book would have provided the background we needed to see the big picture a little better.

All in all, the series is a good one, and especially in the cases of the first two titles, we felt that any beginner, intermediate student or Teacher would find useful.. From what we can tell, the way to go in Each case is to get the book and the accompanying DVD for each title you are buying.

Eric Stuer, May 2005

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