Spotlights & Histories Of “Unusual” Musical Instruments: The Cajon

We are so excited to be launching our first ever blog series – Spotlights & Histories of “Unusual” ┬áMusical Instruments! We hope that you enjoy the series, and that it is both entertaining and educational. For our first “unusual” instrument, we will be featuring the Cajon – a percussion instrument originating in Peru.

Cajon

front and back view of a cajon

Now, you may be thinking, “That doesn’t look like an instrument – it looks like a box!” Indeed it does. But you now what? It’s supposed to!

The cajon has been around since the late 18th century. African slaves that were brought over to the Spanish Colonial Americas (specifically Peru) are believed to be the originators of the instrument. There are two theories of origin: 1) The cajon developed from the slaves using boxes, shipping crates, and even small dressers that were readily available to them as musical instruments. 2) The cajon was born out of opposition to the Spanish colonists, who had bans on music in the slave areas. The Peruvian slaves were able to disguise  their drums as seats, stools, and boxes to avoid detection.

How resourceful! Most likely, it was a combination of both of these theories that resulted in the cajon’s creation.

As far as construction, the contemporary cajon is comprised of five sides of wood, usually one half to three quarter inches thick. The sixth striking side, the head, is made from a thin sheet of plywood, and a sound hole is cut out of the side opposite the head. The player then sits atop the cajon and beats on the front playing surface with his/her hands, or maybe even some brushes.

There are many different variations on the cajon, including the Cajon Flamenco which adds a guitar string to the inside of the head, creating an effect similar to that of a snare drum. There is also the Cajon Cubano, which is different in that it is held between the knees, like a conga. There are also cajones that do have snares running along the inside of the head, and there are even cajones that have two tonal chambers so that the player can get both a higher sound as well as a bass sound out of the instrument.

Check out these great cajon videos:

 

Maybe The Halls of Music should think about getting a cajon… The possibilities sure are jammin’!

What do you think about the cajon? Do you know any other fun facts or cool videos you can share with us? Comment below!

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