The Cajón is a traditional percussion instrument from Peru that is
synonymous with Afro-Peruvian music. Due to its
versatility the instrument is used in a wide variety of musical styles
all around the world including Spanish Flamenco, rock, fusion, and
The basic instrument is very simple in design. The traditional Cajón
is a wooden box with a sound hole on the back, and a striking surface
on the front. Traditionally, five sides of the box are made 3/4" pine or
white wood, and a striking surface out of plywood. The player sits on
top of the Cajón and strikes the front with his hands, coming up with
variations in timbre depending on where and how the Cajón is striken.
Some Cajónes have panels with loose cornes to facilitate better slap
sounds. Flamenco Cajónes sometimes have guitar strings inside to
generate a resonating sound.
The origins of the Cajón are not exactly clear: it is believed that
the instrument originates from the Afro-Peruvian music
tradition in the coastal regions of Peru. One hypothesis is that African
slaves used wooden cod shipping crates as a replacement
for their native drums. In Cuba small dresser drawers were used as
instruments in a similar manner. However, other theories suggest that
the Cajón originates from botijas: conical clay jugs that were used by
earlier black Peruvians to accompany a dance called the Zamazueca.
A third possible predecessor is the tamborete, also known as mesa de
ruidos (table of noises). This instrument consists of a sheet of wood
on four legs. This instrument was popular in some regions of Peru and
While the Peruvian Cajón is used as a universal instrument, the Cuban
Cajón is almost exclusively featured in the Rumba de Cajón. The
Spanish use of the Cajón can be traced back to the guitar player Paco
de Lucia, who took the instrument to Spain to replace the percussive
hand clapping that traditionally accompanied the Flamenco.
Modern Cajónes come in all sorts of colors and materials (even
Plexiglas), and are especially popular for "unplugged" music
sessions. Cajónes are also sometimes mounted on legs, which allows
them to be played like a set of congas.