Box Drum

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The box drum, also commonly known as a cajón, is a simple percussion instrument that can be played with hands, brushes or mallets. It produces sound through a sound hole at the back of a box-like structure on which the player sits on top. The box drum is heavily featured in Afro-Peruvian music but has become a very popular instrument in many genres.
History of the Box Drum
The box drum has origins in Africa, however it was developed by enslaved Africans in Peru during the 18th century. The word cajón, meaning box, was used to describe upturned fruit boxes and crates that were used to create the first box drums, which were in turn used to create the early rhythms in Cuban and Peruvian music. The box drum soon became a cultural and traditional symbol of Afroperuvian music and would start to become an integral percussion instrument used by street performers. The box drum has been there at some key moments in history, for example, box drum and cajon players would use their loud sound to attract people to street demonstrations during Fidel Castro’s political hold of Cuba. A box drum is most commonly and simply constructed of 5 sides of white wood with one side of plywood as the drum head. However, the box drum has transformed through time as modern interpretations sought to improve the instrument. The flamenco box drum or cajon was allegedly developed by Paco de Lucia and Brazilian percussionist Rubem Dantas during the 1970s on a tour of Peru. This variant added guitar strings and bells to give the rhythm player more tools at their disposal. Other variations include added screws to change the timbre and rubber feet to secure its base. Companies such as Japan’s Roland have mass produced the electric box drum to give players a variety of drum sounds.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

$100 - $500

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How to Play

A percussion instrument that consists of a hollow box with a playing surface on the top. The player strikes the surface with their hands to create rhythms and tones.

In Popular Music

The box drum is among the most popular percussion instruments in popular music - particularly for acoustic music. It features in many hundreds of records but can be strongly heard in notable examples such as: ‘Hey Soul Sister’ by Train and ‘Budapest’ by George Ezra.

Famous Players

Paco de Lucía, Juan Medrano "El Tati", Rubem Dantas

Close Relations

Udu, Bongo
Video Credit: Paul Jennings
Understanding the Box Drum
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Africa

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Percussion

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