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What is a Cajón?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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A cajón is a wooden box drum said to have been originated by African slaves in Peru in the early 1800s. It looks like a rectangular box with a round sound hole in the middle of one side. The panel that is strummed, or actually slapped, with the hand is directly opposite the panel with the sound hole. The word cajón means "crate" or "box" is Spanish.

The cajón is often made from plywood, with thinner plywood used for the slapping side of the drum. In some areas, a drawer from a chest of drawers is used to make a cajón. The player sits on top of the cajón, angling it between the knees so that the hand can reach the playing surface.

The cajón is used in Afro-Peruvian music as well as in Afro-Cuban rumba music and dancing. Flamenco music also uses the cajón instrument. The cajón is sometimes used in modern music with the acoustic guitar. Los Lobos, The Dixie Chicks, Fleetwood Mac and Jennifer Lopez have all had the cajón in some of their songs.

Some cajóns are narrow at the bottom and have slanting sides. Some types of cajóns have strings added on the slapping surface to bring a buzzing vibration to the music. A cajón may also have more than one playing side to it so that different sounds can be created. For example, one playing surface may emit clear, bright tones while another playing surface may produce more muffled and wooden sounds.

Ultra-modern versions of the cajón include materials such as Plexiglass. Peruvian cajón artist, Chino Bolanos, created the Plexiglass cajón. It is box-shaped, transparent and completely hollow inside. The sound hole is clover-shaped and the bottom corners have four feet. There are many different types and sizes of cajóns and they range in price from about $100 US Dollars (USD) to over $300 USD.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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