History Of The Cajon Drum

Posted in History on December 10, 2015

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The Cajon Drum (properly pronounced as ka•hone) is a ancient box like drum whose beginnings rise from the suppression of slavery. Originally created from small shipping crates or drawers, the musician would slap the face of the box with his or her hands creating a primitive drum beat .

Most historians agree that this drum was discovered in the early 1800s off the coast of Peru by Peruvian slaves that worked at the Spanish Colonial Americas shipping ports. These slaves would take the wood crates that were commonly used for shipping harvested fruit and turn them into instruments. This acted as a replacement for their native drums left in their country. During this period slaves were not allowed to play musical instruments and would be punished if caught with one.

Because of the fear of being punished they would use the drum as a stool or seat to disguise their cajon. To play the drum the musician would sit on the box with the striking surface between their legs, and begin slapping the front with their hands. By slapping the box in different areas they could produce different sounds. Often if the top slat was loose on the box they could slap it and it produced a higher pitch.

By the 1850s this small box like drums popularity begin spread  throughout the world. History shows that it spread to the west coast African slaves, then to Cuba, and on to the Americas. As time progressed Cajon drummers began to experiment with the design of the drum. They began creating different shapes and sizes by bending the planks of the Cajons. This altered the drums sound  patterns of sound and vibration.

Here is a nice video explaining the history of the cajon

Now days Cajon’s are crafted out of different types of wood and formed into many different sizes and shapes. Some of the wood types used are cherry, mahogany, figured maple, koa, pine, and bubinga. The most common construction is six sided box with a hole in either the back or side. Depending on the placement of the hole determines the drums pitch, volume, projection, and timbre. The front or “Head” of the drum are usually made from a thinner piece of wood. When played this results in a clear resonant sound.

Today the cajon drum is gaining popularity from all types of bands and percussionists around the globe. It has stood the test of time and is in the process of making a huge come back. With a foothold in Europe, the instrument expanded across the continent and found it's way into the mainstream as a quieter and more portable accompaniment to the acoustic guitar in rock, soul, folk and jazz bands to name a few.

It has become a favorite among buskers and it's ever-increasing popularity has prompted large manufacturers to mass produce and sell them worldwide, along with all kinds of new accessories, attachments and experimental modifications. The instrument is now finding it's way into countless new styles and genres and it's roll in such a large variety of musical contexts, accompanying such a huge range of other instruments shows us how versatile and how effective it can be.