Do you know the origin of the flamenco box drum?
If you have already visited our flamenco show in Barcelona, you have surely felt the rhythm of the flamenco box drum – or cajón– during the show. Nowadays this percussion instrument is an indispensable part of any flamenco band and it is almost impossible to imagine this genre without its characteristic sound.
However, the truth is that the relationship between the cajón and flamenco was only created a few decades ago. So what is the origin of the flamenco box drum?
What is a flamenco box drum?
The cajón is a musical instrument from Peru that has become popular thanks to the new flamenco, modern jazz and Afro-Latin-Caribbean music.
It is one of the few musical instruments where the artist sits on it while playing. In the case of Palau Dalmases, we have professional musicians like Lucas Balbo. Check out our time schedule on our website and don’t miss the best percussionists live.
History of the cajón flamenco – or rather said – Peruvian cajón
This instrument is known internationally as the cajón flamenco or Spanish cajón, so its origin seems to be Spanish. However, in spite of creating one of the most recognisable sounds of flamenco, its origins are to be found in Peru, specifically in the black slave populations that were moved there after the Spanish colonisation.
Data on the Peruvian cajón have been available since the mid-19th century, and it was officially recognised as “Patrimonio Nacional del país” (National Heritage of the country) in 2001.
This instrument arose from the slaves’ need to continue manifesting their suffering through their music and songs. The Catholic Church in the seventeenth century had banned the use of drums for being considered pagan and for being a method of communication between slaves.
Therefore, it is believed that the slaves created the first box drums from wooden boxes that were used to transport goods and were easily replaceable if requisitioned. These first cajones have become a symbol of the struggle against colonial repression.
How did the flamenco box-drum arrive in Spain?
Due to the historical link between Spain and Latin America, it may seem that the cajón arrived to the Peninsula in a natural way, however this was not the case. The cajón did not reach flamenco until 1977.
The great flamenco tocaor, Paco de Lucía, discovered the Peruvian cajón at a party organized by the Spanish ambassador in Peru during one of his American tours. The sound of the cajón caught his attention and he began to incorporate it into his music. He used it for the first time in the Casa de Campotheatre in Madrid and, from that moment on, there was a cajón in every flamenco house.
The sobriety its sound fits more into flamenco than any other percussion instrument used up to that time. For this reason after Lucía’s return tu Spain, several drums wew imported to Spain and the instrument was quickly adopted by the composers of modern flamenco of that time.
From that moment on, the cajón box drum has become an irreplaceable instrument in flamenco performances and shows in Spain.
Why is the cajón perfect for flamenco shows?
As we have already mentioned, the sober sound is key, but the cajón fits perfectly with flamenco music for many other reasons:
- Flamenco percussion has always been done with hand-clapping, but it doesn’t offer the right consistency, power and precision for the band like the cajón.
- The high-pitched sound of the cajón is similar to that of the bailaor’s heel and the lower sound resembles the one emitted by the sole of the foot during tapping. It is therefore an instrument that complements flamenco dancing.
- It is a small instrument and easy to transport.
How has the flamenco box-drum evolved over the years?
The first drums were played horizontally and the person playing it was sitting on a chair, but starting the 20th century, the current vertical shape of the cajón was popularized and the percussionist sat on top.
From those first drums until now, this cajón flamenco has evolved a lot, especially since it is used for percussion in flamenco. In this case, strings have been added inside, which creates that characteristic sandy sound, and the way in which the lid is fixed to the instrument’s case has also been modified.
These variations in recent decades are what differentiate the cajón flamenco from the original Peruvian cajón.
Depending on how it is played (with the hands, fingertips, etc.) you can get one sound or another and you can also enrich the drum’s sound by adding small metal objects inside, such as bells.
Currently the cajón flamenco can also be played with drumsticks or pedals more commonly used with drums. They are also creating the first digital or electroacoustic smaller cajones with a sound very faithful to its original.
Feel the rhythm of the cajón at the Palau Dalmases flamenco show
In Palau Dalmases we have not only the best flamenco percussionists, but also an unbeatable crew of musicians and dancers. Get your tickets and don’t miss our daily flamenco shows at 18h, 19:30 and 21:30. See you!