Uganda Roberts is a master of the congas

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NEW ORLEANS -- The sound of the drum in our city is as old as New Orleans itself, starting with the slaves and the djembe drum in Congo Square.

In modern music, the senior member of the hand drum fraternity is none other that Alfred "Uganda" Roberts.  He's someone who wanted to play, and made a way.

Roberts told us, "I used to go into the bar rooms because I didn't have a record player at home, and I started playing bongos. I'd have about four quarters that I'd put in a jukebox and I'd sit next to the jukebox and play along with the records. My first professional gig playing bongos was with Chris Owens and the Morocco Girls. I was known as Jamaica Joe, that was the stage name she gave me. I had the big straw hat, calypso shirt on with big puff sleeves, tie it in a knot by your belly button."

Roberts says those early days in the clubs didn't pay much, but he continued to play with everyone, even recording a few songs with Allen Toussaint.

It was at a party in the early 1970s that brought an incredible opportunity to meet and play with the great Professor Longhair.

According to Roberts, "Quint (Davis) brought me there and he said the way you play those drums at the Jazz Fest with the drum circles, you should sound good playing with this piano player. He and I played together, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We never had to rehearse, and playing together for eight years."

Roberts has continued to play congas on the biggest stages, and even finds time these days to play with the Sullivan Dabney and Muzique Jazz Band in schools educating kids on the New Orleans sound.

"We introduce them to jazz and a lot of music they probably don't hear on the radio. After we perform, we have a question and answer series with them, and you'd be surprised how interested they are about the instruments themselves," said Roberts.


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