The Cajon drum: a story of a magical percussion instrument.


I remember tapping over table or chair making rhythmic sounds and dreaming of becoming a drummer. Later I found the perfect match; one of the best percussion instrument loved by renowned musicians and people across the globe, yes you’re right it’s the “Cajon drums” a popular name worldwide in the music community. Let’s explore more about it:
The term is a Spanish word (pronunciation: [kaˈxon] ka-hon) meaning box, crate or drawer.
What does history speak about it?
Most widely used musical instrument in African Continent and Peru since from 16th century. Sourced by the slaves of Africa in America, as a cheap and efficient medium to enjoy their cultural music.

One story tells, slaves employed in the shipping ports of Spain takes the shipping crate with them and used them as a substitute of their traditional rhythmic instrument to play drum beats.

Also, it is said that the music is banned in the African areas, by the Spanish colonial. In situations the instrument is playing a role of stool or seat, avoiding its identification as a musical instrument. Thus leading the way to Cajon’s birth.

The Growth Story

The instrument gained popularity around 1850 among slave groups, and players start tinkering with the build, shape, and size of the instrument in order to produce a variety of sound vibrations.

It was Alex Acuña a renowned percussionist and drummer from Peru, who introduced the instrument to the commercial and pop music world of US, as he used the instrument on recordings and in public performances since late 1970’s.

Still, the instrument was not so popular till it was gifted to Paco de Lucia, by Peruvian Cajon player and composer Caitro Soto. De Lucia immediately introduced the instrument to his band, after hearing the sound.

With this the instrument joined the club of Spanish flamenco music, by the effort of Paco de Lucia, Spanish Flamenco Guitar player, with just a little upgrade of the internal wire frame making it more reliable rhythm base instrument in flamenco style. This internal wire frame known as snare wire is used to produce a rattle and snare sound like the modern drums.

Conventional Peruvian Cajon doesn’t have snare wire set in it and hence produce crisp and dry sound, like African drums, compare to their modern alternatives.
From there the instrument gained popularity and now its the lead of rhythmic instruments played in Flamenco music.
It’s a part of our Cultural Heritage

Nations like Peru, Cuba (few other Caribbeans), Mexico and Spain has a development trial of the instrument along with the individual musical culture.
They integrated Cajon as a part of their cultural heritage.
As said it is developed in the coastal region of Peru, hence declared as National Heritage by Peruvian National Institute Of Culture in 2001.

The instrument still holds a key position in traditional Peruvian festivals, dances, plays and musical events. They are an integral part of the African and Peruvian culture.
In South Mexico, the instrument has developed into a variety of model named tapeador, cajón de tapeo or Mexican Cajon sharing the same family hierarchy of Afro-Peruvian Cajon and upgraded slightly to mix with Mexican musical culture over a period of time.
With the efforts of Paco De Lucia, the instrument has gained recognition in the Spanish music industry. Not only in the industry it is also a key instrument used in the Spanish folk music style, Flamenco. The worldwide renowned style for dance and music, where amazingly it’s a counterpart for both.
In an interview musicologist, Dr. Olavo Alen Rodriguez stated the evolution of drums in Cuba. He stated that the shipping workers in the port cities like Matanzas and Havana, cherished their evening time turning the useless shipping crate into beating drums and dancing. This drums evolved with time along with dance styles like Rumba which has its variants like Yamba, Guaguanco, and Columbia.

Cuba has developed several variants of the drum where most of them having 5 sides. Most famous one is Tumba at present a drum size box, which is a hybrid of Congo and Cajon. They are rare with the shape and size mentioned and played in a unique style as well. Just tilt it 30 degrees and make your music beating its top head.

Knowing such an elaborate history and glories of the Cajon Drums, I’m sure you don’t want to miss out the next part choosing the right Cajon for you.