Humberto "Nengue" Hernandez
Singer & Percussionist
Born in Havana, Cuba, Humberto “Nengue” Hernandez, was introduced to music by his father, Andrés Hernandez who sang with the legendary Papin of Los Papines, and in popular Cuban shows, with various Cuban bands. Nengue was taught to play Congas by his father at the tender age of five. Days before his fifteenth birthday, Nengue followed his family to Detroit, where he played with various local bands and began to perfect his technique with congas, bongos & timbales; Most of which he had taught himself to play. While playing congas during a rehearsal session, Nenge was asked to sing. The band was so impressed that he was given his first gig as a singer/percussionist. Thus began Nengue’s career as a singer. During Nenge’s summers as a youth he would stay home and practice drumming to various records. It was then that he was introduced to such artists as Mongo Santamaria, “Cachao,” and Santana. He particularly enjoyed Mongo Santamaria’s albums, for in them he found a role model that like himself was a Cuban percussionist. Nengue was inspired by these artists and fantasized what it would be like to be in their shoes some day.
Being amidst Detroit and its Motown sound had a direct influence on Nengue. In addition to the various local Latin bands that he was playing with, he also began to play with a variety of R&B, and Jazz bands as well. In the early seventies Nenge started playing with an R&B band titled The Five Specials. Shortly thereafter The Five Specials received national attention with their hit “Why Leave Us Alone.” The Lead singer of the group, Ron Banks, (brother of The Dramatics’ Brian Banks,) heard Nengue play congas at an audition and hired him on the spot. Nengue rode The Five Specials’ wave of popularity, as they opened up for such artists/groups as Heat Wave, Cameo, Anita Bryant, MCFadden & Whitehead, The Gap Band, Confunction, and The Jacksons.
In addition to playing for The Five Special, Nengue played percussion for the R&B group Midnight sky. He then sang vocals on a Jazz album with Alan Barnes (tenor saxophonist for The Blackbirds) and drummer, Rick Lawson (who later went on to play for such artists as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Phil Collins.) Nenge was also given the honor of being a featured percussionist in a one-night show at Detroit’s Orquestra Hall, with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie. Nengue then recorded an album with Travis Biggs, and did some work with his brother Racy Biggs (Was Not Was.) Nengue played for many years with Marcos Belgrave (trumpet player for Ray Charles’ Ban), as well as with the Roy Brooks Jazz Ensemble, and Ron English. Though Nengue was making a name for himself in R&B & Jazz, he never forgot his passion for Latin music.
In the Early 1980’s Nengue left Detroit and moved to Los Angeles, where he took his promising musical career to a whole new level. In 1981 Nengue worked with his cousin Fito “La Palabra” Foster, on a self-titled album for a hot new group called Versailles. Lead by “La Palabra”, Versailles gave Salsa a new romantic twist, and became an international hit with the song “Lady,” a Salsa rendition of the Lionel Richie hit of the same name, which was interpreted by Versailles in both English and Spanish. Nengue also went on to work with such artists as Johnny Martinez (a veteran in LA’s Salsa scene), Azuquita Melao, and Salsa83, a Salsa band with two trombones and original material which attracted a lot of popularity among LA’s Salsa scene.
In 1988 Nengue starred in the Motion Picture Salsa alongside a local Salsa band. It was on the set of Salsa that he was hired to work with his childhood idol, Mongo Santamaria. At this point Nengue had not only mastered the congas, & timbales, but he had also become quite extraordinary playing bongos, African batá drums, & all associated minor percussion instruments. As a part of Mongo’s band, Nengue performed in Carnagie Hall, headlined in the Montreaux Jazz Festival, and toured the world in an international tour that took him everywhere from the Village Gate in NY to being the first band/artist to open in Tokyo’s Blue Note. Nengue also recorded two albums with Mongo Santamaria. He was a featured percussionist, and vocalist on Soca Me Nice, and he also played percussion on the recording of Ole Ola. Nenge also went on to record an album for Big Mountain in which he played congas, timbales, and sang. Big Mountain gained popularity with this album and their Reggae rendition of Baby I Love Your Way, a song featured on the Motion Picture Soundtrack for Reality Bites. Nengue then toured the country with an Afro-Cuban Folkloric group titled Project Iroko, lead by Bill Summers (who worked with Quincy Jones on the Soundtrack for Roots). In October of 1993, a “master group of musicians” along with Israel “Cachao” Lopez, stepped into the legendary Record Plant in Los Angeles with only four arrangements. The mastery of these musicians “and their ability to jam on the spot” created 30 songs in a week’s time. Twelve of these songs became Master Sessions Volume I. Nenge with his “electrifying hands” is one of those master musicians. The talent which came together to form Master Sessions Volume I, did not go unnoticed, Master Sessions Volume I, received much attention, and a Grammy Award. The remaining songs recorded on that legendary day became Master Sessions Volume II, which was also nominated for a Grammy Award.
In addition to Nengue’s big screen debut in Salsa, he also held a cameo in the Motion Picture, Fires From Within. Nengue also lent his vocal ability to the soundtrack of the film, along side Celia Cruz, Justo Batancourt, and Johnny Pacheco. He also took on the challenge of putting together a band, titled La Ultima, which gained popularity as well as the attention Latin Beat Magazine. Nengue once again put his “electrifying hands” to the congas for Herby Hancock’s latest album The Drum. Nengue then went on to work with Jazz singer Dianne Reeves. In addition to his work on the big screen, Nengue has also been featured on National television, performing on BET Jazz with Dianne Reeves, on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show with Cachao and Andy Garcia, as well as a performance on MTV.
Nengue has since revisited the silver screen with an appearance in the Motion Picture Dance with Me, starring Cheyanne and Vanessa Williams and Assassination Tango, starring Robert Duball. Nengue was invited to play congas with Cuba’s own Los Van Van during their first Los Angeles appearance, in addition to being invited to perform with the Legendary Irakere, in Cuba; and Los Muñequitos de Matanzas during their Los Angeles performance. Nengue was a featured percussionist in a music video by the rap group, Funk Doobiest for their hit single “Papi Chulo”. Nengue has also had the pleasure of singing with Jose Alberto “El Canario,” as well as opening up for the great Tito Puente during a performance in L.A.’s House of Blues. Nengue has also recorded with such artists as: Johnny Polanco y Su Conjunto Amistad, Herb Alpert, Greg Phillinganes, Alfred Rubalvaca & Leon Bisquerab, Ricardo Lemvo y su Maquina Loca, as well as providing the lead vocals on a single for Ricardo Estrada’s album titled Rico Mosamique. Nengue has toured repeatedly with legendary drummer, Mickey Hart and played percussion on such recordings as the Grammy Award winning, “Supernatural” by Carlos Santana, and the Grammy Award nominated, self titled, CD, “Carabana Cubana”. Despite his youthful appearance, Humberto “Nengue” Hernandez is a seasoned percussionist and vocalist with over 30 years of experience, which has placed him among the most talented percussionists in Latin music. Nengue’s skill and versatility have enabled him to make history by collaborating in performances and recordings with some of the most notable names in Jazz, R&B, and Latin music. There is no limit to what the future holds for Humberto “Nengue” Hernandez. As an accomplished percussionist and brilliant singer, Nengue exhibits a raw talent and energy that is authentically his own.
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