The conga or tumbadora originated as a musical instrument in Cuba as part and parcel of the rumba, yet the instrument is nowhere found in the early days of this important Cuban musical genre.
The word rumba was used originally in Cuban music as a synonym for fiesta. To “make a rumba” was to throw a party, however this usage was limited solely to certain segments of the nineteenth century Cuban populace, for in Cuba many expressions were used as synonyms for party. Farmers in the island’s eastern region called their parties changüí, whereas farmers in the central and eastern areas called them guateques. Many ethnic groups of the complex that nurtured Afro-Cuban music called their parties tumbas. For this purpose other expressions were adopted too, such as: bembé, macumbas, mambos and, of course, rumbas.
In 1886 Cuba utterly abolished slavery and the slave trade. Thus about a quarter of a million individuals obtained their freedom. However this did little for their economic situation. These people couldn’t remain in the country because they weren’t the owners of the land. But it was also difficult for them, owing to the scarcity of economic resources, to become city dwellers. The frequent outcome was that such people drifted into the outskirts of several western Cuban cities where they built themselves very rudimentary dwellings out of whatever materials they could lay hands on, or else rented rundown houses where a number of families would all live together. This gave rise to a type of housing known in Cuba by the name of solar (slum) or cuartería. In these surroundings the Cuban rumba was born.