It is almost impossible to imagine a flamenco show without a flamenco cajón on stage. Many people may also associate this percussion instrument with Andalusia, the birthplace of flamenco. However, the origin of this instrument is very different from what people think. Actually, its presence in the tradition of flamenco dates back to only a few decades ago.

The cajón has its origins in Peru, of which there are documented data from the middle of the 19th century. It was created by the Africans who were brought to America as slaves. Due to the importance of percussion in African cultures and the banning of drums by the Catholic Church, which considered them a pagan instrument, the Afro-Peruvians created the flamenco cajón. They came up with the concept when they saw the wooden crates used for transporting goods. Then, they started to use them for their rites and artistic manifestations. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the flamenco cajón began to be placed vertically instead of horizontally, as well as the custom of some musicians to sit on a chair when playing.

When did the cajón become part of the flamenco tradition?

We said at the beginning that nowadays it is impossible to imagine a flamenco show without a cajón on stage. However, to the surprise of many, the flamenco cajón was not incorporated into the flamenco tradition until 1977. The illustrious Spanish flamenco guitarist and composer Paco de Lucía discovered it during a visit to the Andean country at a party organised by the Spanish ambassador. Several local musicians attended the party, including Chabuca Granda, the well-known Peruvian singer-songwriter and folklorist. Paco de Lucía felt a revelation with this instrument when the lady of Creole music performed with Caitro Soto, Afro-Peruvian singer-songwriter and cajón player. He realised that the flamenco cajón was what was missing from this art and musical style.
For this reason, he bought the cajón that Caitro was using at the time, gave it to the percussionist of his group Rubem Dantas, and began to move this instrument around the world, hand in hand with flamenco. As Paco de Lucía said: “the cajón has the high-pitched sound of a dancer’s heel and the low-pitched sound of the sole”. Furthermore, the flamenco cajón is an instrument that is easy to store and to transport.

How to play the flamenco cajón well?

 

At first glance, it may seem like a simple instrument to play, but it takes a lot of practice to master it. If you take the following points into account, your skill with the flamenco cajón will improve considerably:

– You must be seated properly: positioned astride the flamenco cajón, on your thighs, with your legs opened so that you can move freely over the cajón. Your back should be straight, with your arms in front of you.
– Learn the different ways of tapping: the basic ones are the high and low tones. Low notes are played with an open hand on the upper half of the cajón and high notes are played with the fingers striking the upper quarter of the instrument.
– Learn to distribute the beat and offbeat well: Also called “learning to walk”, the beat is done with the right hand and the offbeat with the left hand.
The flamenco cajón is a very versatile instrument that is not only used in flamenco, but is also present in other musical styles such as funk, reggae or jazz. So, what are you waiting for to join an ever-growing group of “cajoneros” (cajón players)?  

Come and discover the world of the flamenco cajón

Join our classes of flamenco cajón at El Lucero