All about the Cajon
Cajon pronounced (ka-hon) means crate, box or drawer. For something which is in essence simply a wooden box, the Cajon can bring some irresistible textures and patterns to any rhythm section. From the complete novice to the advanced drummer or percussionist, the Cajon stands as an equally rewarding and enjoyable instrument.
What is a Cajon instrument?
A Cajon is a wooden box which is now often made out of birch or beech plywood, though some high-end models can be made from solid wood. With either strings or snare wires attached to the back side of the striking surface, and a sound hole at the back, the Cajon is able to produce a textured and surprisingly well projected sound.
They are also made so that you can feel a clear distinction between the bass and the snare sound depending on where you strike it. Not only very lovely to hear when played, they are also relatively simple to get the hang of, and tremendously easy to transport in comparison to even the most humble of drum kits.
Who invented the Cajon drum?
So, what is the history behind this infectiously effective wooden box of tricks? It is thought that the cajon originated in Peru around the late 16th century where slaves of west and central African origin would use any type of wooden object such as fruit crates or dresser draws to replicate a sound similar to the native drums of Africa.
By the 1850s the cajon become popular. During the slavery period, cajon players added extra features to the wooden box to alter the sound it produced and tweaked the design transforming it into a Cajon that we now know and love. It wasn't until 1969 that the instrument made it's way to the music scene and this was thanks to the Afro-Peruvian music ensamble Perú Negro which celebrated Peru's black culture and the cajon appeared in their traditional festejo music.
As the cajon was becoming popular in South America, it was Paco de Lucia, a Spanish guitarist, who decided to bring the intrument back to Europe. And, since then, it has caught on as a key rhythmic tool not only in Afro-Peruvian music but also in flamenco music. And indeed it is often used as percussion in many styles of music when bands want to put together an effective acoustic set which nevertheless has a driving and interesting beat at its core.
How to play the Cajon
As mentioned above, one of the great things about the Cajon is that it is actually relatively easy to play. The first step is to take a seat on the Cajon. Then, by using the palms of your hands, as well as your fingers, you produce the sound by striking the front of the Cajon. On top of these traditional methods however, players of the Cajon have also been known to use brushes, mallets or sticks. Some percussionists even attach a bass drum pedal to the Cajon and therefore use it as an alternative kick drum, but this is not the primary use of the instrument usually.
Take a look at the tutorial below by Ross McCallum to learn how to play a basic reggae groove on a cajon.
What Cajon to get
Although the Cajon is a fairly standardised instrument, there are different kinds of Cajons available for you to explore. The main difference between certain Cajon instruments and others is that some have strings whilst others have snare wires attached to the back side of the striking surface. The difference between a string cajon vs a snare cajon is that string cajons also known as flamenco cajons use guitar strings to produce a snare whereas cajons with snares use real drums.
Nowadays, you can also purchase Cajons which give you the ability to remove and adjust the wires, such as the Sela Professional Cajon Tineo or the Schlagwerk Cajon 2inOne Deluxe Makassar CP432. Smaller, more compact Cajons can also be opted for as a travel option. As well as that, if you are thinking of buying a Cajon for a budding young Cajon enthusiast, there are some top-quality children’s Cajons to go for such as the Schlagwerk Tiger Box.
As far as accessories go, you can then always add a Schlagwerk CFL10 Cajon Flap into the mix, so that you will be able to create a fantastic castanet sound.