Noël Quintana, also known as “Mr. Conga,” is a Pittsburgh-based Puerto Rican percussionist, band leader, official Tycoon artist, researcher, educator and avid collector of Latin music photos, records and memorabilia. He is the founder and artistic director of The Latin Crew, one of Pittsburgh’s premiere salsa bands. He has also performed with Latin music’s giants Tito Puente, Johnny Almendra y Los Jóvenes del Barrio, Luis Romero y Mazacote, Aretha Franklin, Richie Ray, Pedro Jesús, Anthony Cruz, Andy Montañez and Tommy Olivencia.
Born in New York City, Quintana grew up surrounded by Afro-Caribbean music. His uncle owned a record store, and he began to build his own record collection early on. After a neighbor introduced him to Luis Romero, a renowned percussionist and recording artist, Quintana began to take private lessons on the conga drums. He furthered his formal music education at the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts in the Museo del Barrio where he studied Afro-Cuban and Afro-Puerto Rican styles as well as contemporary urban salsa with “Little” Ray Romero, Johnny Almendra, Luis “Timbalito” Romero, and Pedro Fernéndez. In New York, he began to perform professionally with the band Sabor Boricua and a few Colombian salsa bands that favored Cuban and Puerto Rican percussionists.
In 1991 Quintana moved to Cleveland where he performed and recorded with the band Impacto Nuevo, but In 1996 he was back in New York to play with the charanga group Johnny Almendra y Los Jóvenes del Barrio, Papo Pepin, and Conjunto Bembé. One year later, he was back in Ohio, participating in the late pianist Roberto Ocasio’s Latin Jazz Project and in Grupo Fuego.
On October 16, 1999 he founded this own band, The Latin Crew, with a desire to have greater artistic and managerial control. The group has performed at the Touch Supper Club, Belinda’s Nightclub, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Columbus Latino Festival, and many other programs and is considered today as one of the region’s premier salsa bands. Besides his own group, Quintana is also member of the Cleveland Salsa All Stars, and he performs with other local bands including Grupo K-Non and Ernie Krivda & The Fat Tuesday Big Band. Noel Quintana was also the host of the radio show “Rítmo Latino” on WDLW 1380 AM show for three years starting in 1998.
As an educator, Noël Quintana has taught for Northeast Ohio Jazz Society’s Banda Hispana Cultural and the Julia de Burgos Community Center for 16 years. He also teaches private lessons in Latin percussion and he offers assembly performance programs for schools and cultural centers.