Not much is known about the truth of its origin, but what we do know is that at peruvian parties and carnivals the Cajon Drum Box takes the best part. Required in Chincha (Peru)Lima (Perú) and Madrid (Spain) , this specimen crossed the pond without wanting to and, because we want it, this magical wooden box, accompanies us with the majesty of its sound, resounds and resounds to make us tap for life.

The Peruvian Cajon Drum Box

His Majesty El Cajon , as Nicomedes Santa Cruz an old peruvian musician called it, is an instrument that consists of a wooden parallelepiped that is used to accompany different rhythms of the Peruvian coast. It is said that the cajón was formerly built of Caoba or Cedro, and the older the wood, the better the sound, said Juan Cotito Medrano .

History of the Peruvian Cajon Drum Box

The Peruvian cajon dates from 1,900 although, some researchers say that this instrument already existed in the year of 1,850 . In this regard, Manuel Atanasio Fuentes in his book Lima: Historical Notes, Descriptive, Statistical and Customs states that at that time there was a kind of drum made regularly of boxes and tables, the same that had one of its sides unlocked so that the knock of the cajon is more sonorous. This instrument could be executed with the hands or two pieces of cane.

Likewise, José Antonio del Busto , says in Brief History of the Negroes of Peru , that the Peruvian cajon drum box replaced the standing drums that the Africans brought when they were banned by the Spaniards. This change was possible in the second half of the nineteenth century, thanks to the ingenuity of the Peruvian blacks who created the cajon drum box for their jaranas. According to the historian, the evolution of this instrument was slow, alleyway and crouched.

Peru Black

Many essayists have written about the cajon, even assuring that before 1850 there were already ingenious percussion instruments that served as accompaniment, such was the case of pumpkins, drums and drums. The latter were pieces of wood planed on four supports and made of hollow tree trunks cut at different heights. They were polished and covered on both ends with animal skin. Such an instrument could be considered as one of the ancestors of our cajon.

Added to this idea is the hypothesis of the Argentinean researcher Carlos Castro, who points out that Africans in Peru during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially on the Pacific Coast , used fruit boxes and other foodstuffs for their drum parties. They were in disuse in the ports.

The Standard Peruvian Cajon Drum Box

There is a theory that the Peruvian cajon was born from the boxes of whiskey and kerosene, which the blacks used to percuss in their songs and thus alleviate the harsh days of slavery. But, all these ideas are only myths since the only certain thing is that in 1,950 the composer Abelardo Vásquez established a standard measure for the cajon drum box, which until that year was built in different shapes and sizes. María del Carmen Dongo – contemporary “cajoneadora” – assures that the formula was: 45 high, 35 basic and 20 wide.

The Peruvian Cajon Drum Box

At the moment there is a great diversity of variations, forms and types of wood with which this instrument is constructed. As for the measurements, the most approximate standard is as indicated above ( 45 high, 35 basic and 20 wide) and in terms of materials, now plywood plates with a thickness of 12 to 15 mm are used, together with wooden covers (back), which in many cases is glued and nailed to achieve a very serious sound. The frontal base is thinner and in it the percussionist plays with the fingers or with the palm hollowed out, achieving basically two types of sound: more serious toward the center of the lid or more acute at the upper edge of the same. ( INC l978 ).

How to play the Peruvian Cajon Drum Box

Apparently playing the cajon drum box can be very easy or you could think that it does not need more knowledge, study or technique to percutirlo, but, the truth is that it has a range of possibilities and sounds that only a skilful cajonero can discover.

Each percussionist achieves his own sounds by the intervention of his own hands and his own physical characteristics; because the hands and their forms of placement in the instrument, as well as the force applied, will make each touch different and unique … even more, considering the rhythmic subtleties of each musician, the speed or intensity with which each sound is performed, affirms the Peruvian musicologist and composer Chalena Vázquez .

Wood, a natural element, interacts with humans, receiving our stimulus and, according to the type of wood used, has different resistances and properties of sound absorption and shock, providing a unique response to each stimulus. This response is called Rebound .

The sounds of the Peruvian Cajon Drum Box

Sounds of the Cajon Drum Box

The Peruvian cajon has two very distinct sounds and some variations. In principle these two sounds are: The grave (low sound) and the acute (sharp sound).

  • The low sound: it is achieved by hitting between the center of the box and the top part (although the place where it sounds best depends on each cajon box). Some hit with the flat hand and others do it by cupping the hand like the palm of the congas.
  • The sharp sound: it is achieved by hitting the upper part of the front wood of the cajon, where it joins the upper horizontal. Each cajon drum box sounds different and has its sounds in different places, depending on the case of the high-pitched sound of how and where the wood is stuck. The sound is achieved with the hand relaxed, the fingers half-open and hitting with a slight inclination of the hand to achieve that the little finger is the first to strike and the index the last, which achieves a sound with appoggiatura (flam) with one hand.
  • The third sound. On the other hand, María del Carmen Dongo ensures that there is a third sound that can be produced from the cajon drum box. In effect, the feeling of María, which imprints in the process of giving and receiving stimuli and answers, reaches an impressive symbiosis in her hands. This is why this cajonera percussionist, despite using an instrument that could be considered rough and even male, does not have calluses, does not hurt his hands, has no bone or inflammatory problems. She works the bounce both of her hands and that of the cajon drum box.

These three sounds employ the hand differently and the combination of volume and nuances achieved range from the most delicate and deep to the most energetic. Absolutely all the shades produce a characteristic vibration of the resonance of the cajon drum box, and even the most delicate can fill a room.

In short, it is necessary to know well the cajon in its structure and form to tear out its sounds little by little. The cajon drum box requires a lot of sensitivity to look for the areas where you can find its sounds and its nuances.

It is common to observe a combination of the three sounds described when the cajon dru box intervenes in instrumental ensembles carrying a rhythmic base and improvising at times. Two cajons are also used, which enter into a contrapuntal dialogue, giving continuity to the drums – male and female – alternating the function of base and strings.

Caitro Soto

In past decades the cajon drum box preferably intervened in the Marinera , the Tondero , and Afro-Peruvian rhythms ; joining the Waltz in recent years and transforming his character towards a more festive and more syncopated tone.

“The Spaniards play with the ‘biscuit’ (upper part of the instrument), their cajones do not have the serious sounds of ours and the way they play also differs. Therefore, when they come to Peru, they buy the cajon drum box from here”. (Caitro Soto).

The Peruvian Cajon in the World

 American Jazz Group Golpe Tierra uses the Peruvian Cajón
American Jazz Group Golpe Tierra uses the Peruvian Cajón drum box

Definitely the cajon drum box is the most international Peruvian instrument that our country has. Throughout its history, due to different circumstances, it has opted for other forms and variations depending on the place and rhythm with which it has had to live. The cajon box has transcended with the times and also with the musical styles, since it has managed to be present in the sounds of Flamenco, La Zamacueca, La Chacarera, Latin Jazz, El Rock, El Vals, among others.

Cajon Drum Box Set Hybrid Percussion
Cajon Drum Set Hybrid Percussion

Also, to have a clearer concept of the countries for which the cajon has traveled and still remains in force, we can say that it has stepped on several platforms in Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Cuba, Panama, USA, Argentina, Venezuela and course Spain. The cajon drum box has been – and perhaps still is – part of the music of groups and musicians such as Rubén Blades, Maria Schneider, Los Jaivas, Chancho en Piedra, La Ley, Illapu, Inti Illimani, Divided, Almond, Ricardo Montaner, Gilberto Gil, JLO, Madonna, Chayanne among many others. In Spain: Alejandro Sanz, Estopa, Rosario, Miguel Bosé, Joaquín Cortés and many others who are dedicated to the fusion of rhythms and Flamenco.

Fernando's Kitchen Group playing in the streets of the United Kingdom
Fernando’s Kitchen Group playing the cajon drum box in the streets of the United Kingdom

On the other hand, in our environment there are two musical currents that have adopted the cajon drum box as the predominant sound in their musical proposals, I refer mainly to Contemporary Folklore and Folk Rock in groups and soloists such as Damaris, William Luna , La Sarita , Cimarrones, Bareto , Gianmarco, Novalima , Jaime Cuadra, Miki González, the consecrated Susana Baca, Eva Ayllón, Tania Libertad and even new singer-songwriters like Cyper and Orlando Belis who come from places like Cajamarca. It should be noted that the cajon is always present in coastal folklore and in Afro-Peruvian music in general with a marked influence on Panalivio, Alcatraz, Landó, Festejo and La Marinera.

The Cajon Drum Box is Peruvian

In the year 2000, percussionist and broadcaster of Cajón Peruano María del Carmen Dongo embarks on a trip to Mexico next to Tania Libertad . From this trip our cajoneadora did not intend to return, but in a show in San Francisco, a group of Peruvians warns that the box was being marketed as Flamenco.

Maria del Carmen Dongo

It was thus that this emblematic figure of percussion initiated an investigation and task of claiming the cajon. According to the story, such confusion or appropriation is due to Caitro Soto giving a box to Paco de Lucía , who took him to Spain and inserted him into the Flamenco rhythm.

María el Carmen Dongo returns to Peru and starts a strong dissemination campaign to demonstrate that the box is not Spanish but entirely Peruvian. The media receives the alert and decides to support the motion, Dongo received the support of various figures of Peruvian music such as Cecilia Barraza who, through her TV program, aggressively promoted the work.

The Cajon is Peruvian
The Cajón is Peruvian

This work had favorable results, on August 10, 2001, the National Institute of Culture (INC) declared the cajón as a Cultural Heritage of The Peruvian Nation . The instrument was dressed in the colors of Peru and the Latin American nation.



Guinness Record of Peruvian Cajones, in each Peruvian Cajon Drum Box Festival.
Guinness record of cajoneada, in each Peruvian Cajón Festival.

Whether due to misunderstandings or historical manipulations, there is no doubt that the Cajon is Peruvian . Currently we can consider the cajon drum box as an element of pride and national representation, since it is the only instrument of Peruvian origin that, as we reviewed, has acquired universality in the world. It is an honor that great figures of the music industry include it in their musical proposals, from studio albums to Unplugged recitals for the multinational MTV network .


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