One of the coolest, most inspiring parts of playing drums is being part of the international community of rhythm makers. People in literally every corner of the planet have been making beats for as long as humans have existed. And, each culture has their own special rhythmical patterns and instruments.
In this Obilab section, we take a minute to highlight one special drum and the culture it came from.
What is it?
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly simple box shape. This instrument not only sounds incredible, but has come to be an indispensable part of Latin music. In fact, it’s the most widely played musical instrument since the 18th century.
The Cajón is a six-sided box, one of the sides is made of a thinner sheet of wood; this side is the part that is traditionally drummed. On the opposite wall (the back), there is a small hole cut out for the sound to come through.
Where’s it from?
The Cajon is from Peru and is used in Afro-Peruvian music and has also spread to be an essential part of Flamenco, jazz, Cuban rumba, Mexican folk music, and many other Latin American music styles.
The origins of the cajón come from the 17th century, during the periods of slavery in Peru. Some people believe it’s a direct descendant of other box-like instruments used in Africa. Other theorize the instrument came from simple lack of materials, slaves playing what they had around them like Spanish shipping crates, old furniture, and other wooden objects.
What’s it made from?
Cajóns are usually made from plywood but can be made from any type of wood, each brand of bark having it’s own unique sounds. The shape of the cajón has recently been moderated and hacked to create new sounds, like adding metal snare strings and other deluxe editions.
How do you play it?
Using hands and fingers to slap and tap the ‘tapa’ or tapping surface you can create different levels of sounds to make beats. And, each part of the surface of the Cajón (lower, higher, left, right) has a different tone. Combined, there’s an infinite scale of music to be made with the cajon.
More recently, people have also started to use plastic and metal brushes and even a bass drum pedal to add extra depth to the instrument.