Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Art at Watson presents Congahead: A Journey through Six Decades of Latin Percussion

Monday, April 11, 2022 –
Tuesday, August 1, 2023

111 Thayer Street, second floor.

Congahead: A Journey through Six Decades of Latin Percussion consists of photographs of Latin, jazz, and pop musicians taken over 60 years by Martin Cohen. The photographs appear in the book Congahead: The Autobiography of Martin Cohen (2019). 

In 1964, Cohen, then a young mechanical engineer, avid photographer, and lover of Latin music, founded Latin Percussion (LP). LP went on to become the world's largest hand percussion instrument company.

Cohen forged close friendships with stars such as Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Dizzy Gillespie, and Carlos Santana, as well as lesser-known artists. The photographs offered here are a testament to his decades-long passion for their art.


As Professor of Political Science Richard Snyder writes in the epilogue of Congahead, “From classic salsa by the Fania All-Stars, to Latin rock by Santana, funk by Parliament-Funkadelic, and R&B by Earth, Wind & Fire, LP instruments form a prominent part of the DNA, the vital infrastructure, of modern popular music.”

He goes on:

With the launching of LP in 1964, Martin successfully tackled the challenge of supplying instruments to meet the pent­up demand for bongos and congas in the face of the US embargo on Cuba…. This unlikely intersection of Cold War geopolitics with the musical passion and ambition of a young Jew from the Bronx set Martin on his life path as an inventor and manufacturer of world-class percussion instruments. Congahead thus offers an excellent example of how a biographical lens provides a stronger understanding of abstract macro-political and economic forces by anchoring them in tangible human experiences.