It's Hip to Be Square (pt.4)

October 13, 2020

It's Hip to Be Square (pt.4)

PRESENT DAY CAJONS

Today the cajon is one of the most popular, accessible, and visible drums worldwide. Every year there are new versions (pocket cajons, bongo cajons, collapsible cajons, turbo cajons, electronic cajons), as well as accessories that are driving innovation and the ways in which this drum is played — for example, cajon brushes, pedals, seats, ports, microphone pickups — even sound effects that can be attached to the cajon itself. Cajons aren’t just made from box-jointed plywood anymore, but now include fiberglass and acrylic in addition to a modern wooden stave-constructed version.

Gon Bops Rumbero cajon

Most major brands have dozens of cajons to satisfy nearly any niche. Some, such as Gon Bops, Meinl, and A Tempo, import gorgeous inlaid Peruvian cajons into the U.S. Other companies, such as LP, Tycoon, and Pearl, import a majority of their drums from Asia, where they are able to develop beyond current traditions. But take a peek at a few of my favorite boutique brands, including De Gregorio and La Rosa, both from Spain; Schlagwerk from Germany; and some outstanding American drum makers that include Swan, Sol, Kotz, Kopf, and the venerable Fat Congas brand, which we hear is making a comeback. These are just a few, for there are likely cajon makers in your own backyard who have their own variation of this immensely popular drum.

If you want to see something really amazing, check out the International Cajon Festival in Peru (Festival Internacional del Cajon Peruano) on YouTube, Facebook, and the web. Founded in 2007 by Peruvian musician Rafael Santa Cruz, the International Cajon Festival is an annual event in Lima, Peru that celebrates the cajon with performances, masterclasses, video screenings, and conferences. In 2013 they set a Guinness World Record with more than 3,600 people playing the cajon together in an unlikely ensemble comprised of 1,000 prisoners, hundreds of local amateur and professional players, and other cajon aficionados from all over the world. Organizers estimate that more than 40,000 players have attended this festival to date.

Mike Meadows with Swan Percussion AT NAMM

A few of my favorite artists at the moment are Heidi Joubert, Pedrito Martinez, Mario Cortes, and Mike Meadows. They’re all out there adapting the old to the new and making the cajon one of the most visible and relevant instruments on the scene. In some musical contexts, the cajon has been able to replace the drum set, and in the process it has created a new breed of drummer — one who keeps the groove while spicing it with textures that drummers previously didn’t have enough limbs to operate. Today’s cajon innovators have informed our current eclectic setups to where it’s now common to see the cajon as a home base while adding to it a low boy hi-hat, shakers, bundle sticks, foot tambourines, finger shakers, feathers — you name it!

So just how did the cajon emerge as one of the fastest-growing percussion instruments? Musicians from the entire spectrum love the cajon because it blends well with acoustic music, doesn’t have fragile animal skins, and doubles as a drum throne. Compared to the sophistication of a drum set, a cast B20 bronze cymbal, or a stave-constructed conga drum, the cajon is accessible to musicians, to craftsmen, and your pocketbook alike. Perhaps to the chagrin of trained drummers, the cajon doesn’t require years of lessons or precise hand technique to play, and that feature has opened it up to an entire world of students and recreational drummers. It’s a drum for everyone and now it’s official: it’s hip to be square!




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