If you’ve ever seen a flamenco show, you probably believe the flamenco cajón is an essential part of it, like the bata de cola, the flamenco fan, or the Manila shawl. However, this instrument doesn’t have as long a tradition in performances as you might expect. Read on to discover the history and origin of the flamenco cajón.
What Is the Flamenco Cajón?
The flamenco cajón is a wooden box played by a musician, known as the cajonero, who sits on the instrument and drums the beat with their hands while feeling the vibrations produced by the cajón on their own body.
Five of the six sides of the box are made of wood (historically cedar, mahogany, mohena, or requia), while the last one, the one on which the player strikes, is usually made of plywood. The most modern designs also include 3 screws, which can be used to change the pitch.
What Are the Parts of the Flamenco Cajón?
A flamenco cajón has two main parts that are equally important for the music:
- The front part or top, where the musician strikes, which, as we have already explained, is made of plywood.
- The back part, where a hole is drilled to increase the resonance of the instrument.
The average wood thickness of a cajón is between 9 and 15 millimeters.
What Kind of Tones Can Be Heard Out of the Cajón?
Given it’s a percussion instrument, the sounds produced by a cajón are brief, yet they can be low or high, as well as weak or strong, depending on the strength of the musician’s strikes and on whether this striking is performed with the palm of the hand or with the fingertips.
Besides, intending to improve the sound, some designs have small metallic objects inside the box, or even several strings, which add more resonance to the instrument while allowing it to still belong to the percussion family.
What Is the Origin of the Cajón?
Despite what many believe, the origin of the flamenco cajón is far away from the Spanish borders: to be precise,, it comes from the Peruvian cajón, an instrument that was brought to Spain by the African slaves who traveled with the Spanish colonizers.
In its early days, in fact, it wasn’t even an instrument as such, but it was used by the slaves to accompany their songs, such as the Panalivio, a chant of protest, with rhythmic beats performed on the boxes used to transport goods. The Catholic Church tried to suppress this music, considering it pagan, but failed, thanks to the simplicity of the instrument that accompanied the songs, which could be easily replaced even if it was confiscated and burned.
How Did the Cajón Get to Spain and to Flamenco?
We have to thank the introduction of the cajón to the Spanish flamenco tradition to Paco de Lucía, who discovered it in 1977 during a performance at the Spanish Embassy in Lima. Just before the brilliant musician performed with his company, Chabuca Granda, a famous Peruvian singer, came on stage, accompanied by an African-American musician who played the cajón.
On his return to Spain, Paco de Lucía brought back several units of the Peruvian cajón, whose sound was perfect for all flamenco styles and, over time, became an irreplaceable instrument among the performers and composers of modern flamenco.
How Has the Flamenco Cajón Evolved?
The first change that the instrument has undergone has been of a practical nature: at the beginning the cajón was horizontal and the musician played it while seated on a chair, but it soon evolved into a vertical cajón, on which the percussionist sits.
In addition, to create a greater richness of sounds, strings were added to the flamenco cajón and its top was modified. Currently, the digital cajón is beginning to be widely used, with a sound surprisingly similar to that of the traditional ones, but much smaller.
Why Is the Cajón Perfect for Flamenco?
Nobody can deny that Paco de Lucía was a flamenco visionary, both for his virtuosity with the guitar and for the open-mindedness that led him, among other innovations, to incorporate the sound of the cajón into modern flamenco.
For this reason, the artist was quick to realize, as soon as he heard the sound that the instrument had to offer, that it matched perfectly with the beat and the tone of flamenco, combining it with the monotonous sounds of flamenco foot tapping and providing the percussion greater strength than the hand-clapping that usually accompanied the dance and music.
Do you want to see how the cajón is integrated into an authentic flamenco show? Book now your tickets for Gran Gala Flamenco and you can enjoy some of the best singers and dancers of this discipline in a show that will not leave you indifferent.