In the mid 1970’s a Brazilian percussionist called Rubem Dantas was on tour in South America performing with flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia. While in Peru Dantas was given a box drum by a local drummer. This instrument was a cajon and although he did not know it yet Dantas was about to spark a movement that would later see the cajon becoming one of the worlds most popular percussion instruments.
The CaSela Cajon by Sela is one of the worlds most popular modern cajons.
After returning from Peru Dantas began using the Cajon with De Lucia and word of this new instrument soon spread with flamenco musicians all across Spain wanting to get their hands on one. The sound of the cajon was a great accompaniment to the flamenco sound but it was not yet perfect. The traditional Peruvian cajon has no snare sound at all, it is simply a wooden box with a very open and resonant sound which is great for the traditional Afro-Peruvian music of coastal Peru but something was missing for the flamenco players. Soon after the cajon was introduced to flamenco, guitar strings were added to the inside and placed on the back side of the playing surface. The addition of the guitar strings resulted in a vibrant rattle effect which added a new dimension to the sound of the cajon. The flamenco players were now happy with the way the cajon complimented their music and the cajon went on to become one of the main instruments in flamenco music, in fact it would be hard to find a flamenco ensamble today that did not use the cajon in their performance.
Flamenco musicians use the cajon widely in their performances
The addition of the guitar strings on the cajon not only made it fit into flamenco music easier but had also turned it into a drum that sounded a lot like another instrument, the drum set. This revolution in sound made it possible to have one very portable drum that sounded like a bass drum & snare drum with many more tones in between. When people began realizing that in this one box, which also doubled as your drum stool, was an entire drum set, drummers around the world began using the cajon in all kinds of musical genres from rock to traditional Scottish music.
Many cajon makers have now added a multitude of snare systems to cajons and new inovations like cable bass pedals made spesificly for the cajon are coming out all the time. Sales for cajons have increased dramatically in the past 10 years and there is no sign of that slowing down anytime soon. The cajon is now hugely popular in asian countrys like Indonesia, Japan & Singapore and sales in Germany alone almost surpassed that of guitars last year. The cajon revolution is now growing in America too with tens-of-thousands sold each year and dosens of brands to choose from.
Today artists such as Maroon 5, Stevie Wonder, Shakira, & Zac Brown Band use the cajon in their live shows and the cajon can regularly be seen on TV shows such as American Idol, The X Factor, & The Voice. So how did this simple box drum which was invented by slave musicians in Peru in the early 1800’s become such a hit with musicians across the world in 2013? The answer to the question lies probably in its drum set like sound and portability, but maybe its just that people are simply awestruck by the scope of sound that is possible from a simple wooden box.