Carlos "Patato" Valdes
A legendary Cuban-American conguero who played with everyone from Herbie Mann to Tito Puente, Patato's influence on modern Latin and Caribbean music -- and percussion in particular -- is nearly incalculable. Credited with being the first to tune his drums to a song's dominant chord and ultimately inventing a new, more easily tuned conga, Patato's playing graces over four decades of recordings. At once rhythmically complex and perfectly relaxed, Patato's sound swings around the changes, flexing and flapping its wings commandingly or playing subtle games of cat-and-mouse with the other percussion. His tone is remarkable as well: moist, tuneful and reminiscent of African talking drums. Patato helped to build the burgeoning Rumba scene in New York in the 1950s and paved the way for Salsa. Releases such as the Six Degrees collection The Legend of Cuban Percussion demonstrate Patato's versatile talent and enduring virtuosity.