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Cajón

posted Jun 8, 2016, 4:50 PM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jun 8, 2016, 4:50 PM ]
Last month, in honor of my birthday, the choir bought our parish a cajón! Pronunced “ka-HON”, it’s a box-shaped percussion instrument played by sitting on it and slapping its face with your hands and fingers; or sometimes brushes, mallets, or sticks.

The cajón, which means "box”, “crate” or “drawer”, was originally developed during the 18
th century period of slavery in coastal Peru. It’s a direct descendant of a number of boxlike musical instruments from west and central Africa, especially Angola, and the Antilles. The African slaves made these instruments from the Spanish shipping crates they unloaded, especially fish crates. Since the Peruvians banned music in predominantly African areas in an attempt to control the slaves better; cajones could easily be disguised as seats or stools, thus avoiding identification as musical instruments.

For the modern cajón, thick wood is used for five sides of the box. A thinner sheet of plywood is nailed on as the sixth side, and acts as the striking surface or head, commonly referred to as the “tapa”. A sound hole is cut on the back side, and drum snares or cords are stretched inside for a buzz-like effect. The player sits astride the box, tilting it at an angle while striking the head between their knees, or playing the sides with the top of their palms and fingers for additional sounds.

It’s often used to accompany the acoustic guitar. It’s heard extensively in Afro-Peruvian music, as well as contemporary styles of flamenco and jazz. It’s played in modern Cuban Rumba; and the cajón de tapeo is used in Mexican folk music. It’s become a popular instrument in the folk music of Ireland and is often played alongside the bodhrán, an Irish frame drum that we also have! So now, all we need is someone to play it! If you know anyone who plays, or might be willing to learn...