If you’ve been around the local nightlife scene for the past decade or so, chances are you’ve heard of Toronto bongo drummers Marko Bongo and Peter B.
The two have accompanied local and international DJs with live percussion inside clubs all over the city, and in 2009 decided to take their performance to the next level by offering a fully choreographed show known as Bongo & B. The company has since grown from a live production to a full-on talent agency that offers everything from samba dancers to live jazz and professional pianists. Because of Marko and Peter’s solid reputations, clients go to Bongo & B because they know they’re booking quality artists for their events.
I spoke with Marko and Peter about Bongo & B as well as their history of performing in some of the city’s hottest nightclubs, what they love most about Toronto and some of their favourite spots to eat, drink and hang out.
You’re well known for your involvement in the Toronto nightlife scene. How did that all begin?
Marko: At the time I was going to York University and some of my friends were promoters. They knew that I drummed and one of the guys said he was throwing a party and invited me to come and freestyle drum over the DJ. So I did and it worked out really well. The crowd really got attracted to that sound. At the time, I was known as Mark the Bongo guy and then people just started calling me Marko – they thought I was Italian (laughs). That’s how my name was born and that happened at Mink Nightclub for the Thursday night jams they used to throw there in 2003.
Who are some of the DJs you’ve performed alongside with over the years?
M: Locally I’ve played with Manzone & Strong, DJ Addy, DJ Undercover– basically every major electronic dance music DJ in this city, as well as MC Flipside. Internationally, I’ve had the opportunity to play with Oscar DJ in Portugal, Dennis Ferrer, the Martinez Brothers. But I’ve also had the opportunity to get out there and work not only with DJs but other artists as well.And Peter, you began with playing the guitar when you were a kid, right?
Peter: Yeah, my first instrument was guitar then trumpet and I started playing drums much later on, not until I was in my 30s.
What about drumming appealed to you and how did you go about pursuing it professionally?
P: Basically, I would hear some of the local drummers at the nightclubs I would frequent and I couldn’t get enough of it. I knew I wanted to pursue it so I ended up befriending some of the drummers I would see in the scene, got some business cards and basically started taking lessons. That was it. From then on it was full-force ahead. I started studying a lot of West African and Afro Cuban rythms facilitated by great teachers such as Keith Pascal and Nation Troy Cheong and master drummers such as Mohamed Diabi, Amadou Kienou, Joaquin Nunez Hidalgo, and Amara Kante.
How did you end up meeting with Marko?
P: Marko and I met through some of the same channels and we just kind of linked up and became friends. Eventually when Marko would leave his residencies he would put me in to take his spot so we’ve worked at a lot of the same nightclubs and with a lot of the same DJs. A lot of the DJs I worked with were more into the soulful house scene like DJ Rizzla, DJ Leo Love and Marcelo Cruz, who were all playing more intimate venues that were catered to an audience that enjoyed smooth, soulful house.
What were some of the clubs you played and had residencies at?
P: Lot 332, Embassy, Inside Nightclub, and I played a little bit at the Guvernment.
After meeting, when did you both decide to partner up and found Bongo & B?
P: I had been talking to Marko and I wanted to kind of create something different. Marko was thinking along the same lines of putting together a drum show. So basically the concept was born with us doing a choreographed routine and producing some music behind it. Once we had finished getting together the choreography and music, we put the show out there through Marko’s channels of knowing a lot of the club owners. That’s kind of how Bongo & B was born.
M: Peter and I were part of a group of drummers who would go down to Cuba on a yearly basis to study the drums and percussion and Afro-Cuban musical culture. When we saw some of the techniques and the complexity of the performances they were putting together, we decided to bring some of that culture back to the Toronto scene and start doing some syncopation and choreography with the drums. I specifically remember it happened in Santiago where we saw a show by a group called Kutumba, which is probably the best drum and dance group in Cuba that performs hardcore Afro-Cuban music. Bongo & B and the concept of the choreographed drum show was born before the Cuba experience in Santiago. The Cuba experience just provided that push and was the catalyst for us to get back to Toronto and go full throttle with it.P: When we started our concept as Bongo & B, we were providing our show but it grew into something bigger than that. We ended up connecting with a lot of the artists we knew. In regards to the team that we have together now, they are all people we know in the scene. We have weekly rehearsals with ten drummers who practise the exact same routine. All of our artists and dancers are hand-picked because, for us, it’s not only important to have great musicians but everything else needs to fall into line. They’re good people, they’re incredible musicians and they represent our brand and our culture. That’s what has been moving us at a rapid pace.
You mentioned some of the clubs you’ve performed at. When you’re not performing and just want to go out with friends, what are some of the clubs you frequent?|
P: In regards to where I’m playing, I’ve been a resident at Dirty Martini for two and a half years. I’m currently a resident doing T2 Lounge. When Mark and I aren’t working and get the chance to go out, we’ll take a look at what promoter is doing what downtown, what DJ is in town and kind of follow where that takes us.
What about restaurants in the city? Where do you like to go out to eat?
M: I like to go to Terroni’s. Terroni’s is a great spot with a really chilled out atmosphere and really good food. In regards to Japanese, there are two spots that I love going to. One of them is called Guu Izakaya and it’s not your traditional Japanese sushi spot. It’s like Japanese fusion, almost a tapas bar with beer and all that stuff, so it’s a really cool concept. The other place is Nome Izakaya and I think I’ve been frequenting those restaurants quite a bit for the last little while. Other than that I like Weslodge downtown, that’s a nice little spot.
P: For myself, Kensington Market has all these little spots where you can go grab some food where everything is locally fresh. Lahore Tikka House on Gerrard is an Indian restaurant. Off the top of my head right now I like to go to these spots that are off the beat and path. There are a couple of vegetarian restaurants downtown. Oh, and Pantheon.
M: Oh, Pantheon is a great spot. The Greek restaurant on Danforth.
If someone you knew was coming to Toronto for the first time, where are some of the places you’d take them?
M: That’s a good question.
P: I would take them into the heart of the city. Kensington Market is just a cool place to hang out. I mean, everybody wants to go to Niagara Falls. I would take them to Forks of the Credit, which is a beautiful spot.
M: I would probably just take them around Bloor, the Yorkville area, and show them that area of town. I’d take them to the beaches – Woodbine Beach and probably the harbourfront as well. Again, those are touristy areas but I would just take them around the downtown core to show the complexity of our city. I’m proud to show people all the different buildings in Downtown Toronto and what they signify.
And finally guys, where can people find you for event bookings and to find out what’s happening with Bongo & B?
M: You can reach us through our website but our events are usually posted on our Facebook page.