The Cajón (pronounced: kah-Hon) is the name used for basically any box-shaped instrument which uses a wooden resonance body and a one or more thinner wooden striking surfaces. Where conventional modern drum-kits, djembes, and many other drums use animal or synthetic membrane skins, the Cajón playing surface is a thin, strong piece of wood, typically made of several layered pieces of timber (plywood).
The variation of sounds which such an instrument can make are diverse. Deep punchy bass, resonant boomy hollow sounds, tight snappy or loose rattley buzzing snare sounds, cracking wood-on-wood, and bongo-style highs and lows. However, as with any percussion instrument it is the player’s technique which makes the most difference. The Cajón is a great instrument for people who just can’t stop tapping on things around the house, the table, the chairs, the pot’s n pans…
There is a lot of information on the internet about the history of the Cajón. They are found in many areas all over Latin America, but their place of origin is most commonly attributed to Perú, and Cuba. In Perú, the Cajón eventually gained interest from Flamenco musicians from Spain and became integrated into their music.
Nowadays the Cajón, especially the Spanish variant design (discussed below), has become a world wide phenomenon. Rock musicians, reggae, folk, jazz, and of course latin musicians have adopted the instrument. Drummers often use one as a drum stool. Acoustic groups use the Cajón to keep a beat without having the inconvenience of carting around a whole drum kit.
I have spent most of my time getting to know the in’s and out’s of the Flamenco Cajón, a variant which stems from the Peruvian style which is a hollow enclosed resonant box about the size of a beer crate in New Zealand (30x30x50cm). The Flamenco musician Paco de Lucia took a Peruvian Cajón back to Spain in the 1970’s. The Flamenco Cajón became a box with a hole in the back, a strong and thin ‘Tapa’ (the surface which is hit) and snares or guitar strings held taught against the Tapa which can sometimes be loosened and tightened to the players choosing. Tight strings create a snappy, short snare sound. Loose strings create a wet, sizzle throughout the high and low percussion sounds. Such an instrument tends to be very versatile and can be assimilated into many styles of music, that is why this style of Cajón appeals to many percussionists from all genres of music.
Flamenco is an art form from Andalusia, Southern Spain.
For more on Flamenco music see the link below: