Have you ever been out at a festival/carnival/occupy protest and not had something to jam along with? Well, next time go prepared and spend a day building your very own bongo cajón. If you didn’t know they existed before, you do now.
I’m guessing you’ve probably heard of cajóns [kah-hons] before. If you haven’t, they’re kind of a lot like drums made from boxes. Story goes that the African slaves living in Peru under Spanish collonial rule found themselves at even more of a disadvantage in the happiness department due to harsh restrictions on their music playing (among other things), and even those rules weren’t as harsh as the ones being imposed in Mali today.
In Peru though, cajons appeared as a result of the ban. Seems you have to try a bit harder than that to wipe music out, as the plans backfired and they accidentally helped create one of the most accessible instruments in the world. Seriously, if you’re older than four and you’ve seen someone playing a cajon, you’ve got all the knowledge you need. Pretty soon, you could be jamming along to The Chicken bass groove just like this guy:
Click here to watch the video on YouTube – opens in a new window
Assuming you watched the video…Congratulations! You now know everything you need to start playing a cajon, but you don’t want a plain old cajon like the one in the video do you? That’s probably why he looks so nonplussed, he needs a more colourful cajon… the good news for you is you can build your very own! Then feel free to decorate it however you wish. Add your own flair, holes for a wireless microphone/radio mics (you don’t want cables getting in the way of rockin’ out) or paintings of your favourite Peruvian pan flutes.
Herein lies the simple pleasure of the Cajon…people like me, with nothing to do on a bank holiday weekend, who like the simple pleasures of boxes…and annoying my neighbours. I also just happened to have a Meinl build your own bongo cajon kit lying around…courtesy of someone I’ve never met at Hi-Fi Tower (they can also sell you every mic you might need for your new hand built musical masterpiece).
Without further ado though, I’m going to assume you’re still reading and crack on with the construction.
Step one: Build your Cajon
Imagine an air fix kit without any of the downsides. No detailed instructions, no delicate parts just asking to end up jabbed into your dad’s already age damaged sole as he stumbles around drunk after watching the football. Not only that, but the thing you make with this kit makes noise, you can put it together in less than a day and ignore it for most of that time…which makes the whole process a lot less stressful.
Once you’ve got all the bits laid out, its time to cast your memory back to your days of woodwork at school, or the last time you used glue, whichever was most recent. Either way, I’m sure you’ll pick up the technique after a bit of trial and error. PROTIP: Try not to stick any bits of the cajon to anything which isn’t another bit of the cajon (easier said than done).
The best part of the whole process was the fact that after each stage of the build, you need to leave the glue to set for about two hours. As your brand new bongo cajon begins to take form, you can at the same time catch up on the headlines or raise your kids or free the whales, or whatever else it is you normally do on bank holidays.
The extra bits you can see in that photo are, in no particular order:
- 1 clamp
- 1 practice guitar amp, because I only had 1 clamp (see above)
- Wood glue
None of these come in the kit, but you aren’t gonna end up with a cajón worth having without them – so prepare in advance to avoid being disappointed. Or if it goes really wrong, compensate with decoration and add some tinsel.
Luckily, mine turned out ok, and as you can see I’m lazy about painting.
Playing your new bongo cajón
Assuming you haven’t had to compensate for your wood glueing skills too much with elaborate designs, you should now have something that looks a lot like a wooden box with an off-centre divider in it. Pretty much just slap either side of the Meinl logo until you start to hear something like this:
Still at a loss? this guy seems to know what he’s talking about:
If you have had to compensate with some less than subtle ornamentation, consider turning your cajón into an attractive shelf instead.
I guess I better come up with some opinions before we’re all out of bank holiday weekend…so…I shall say this much: if you’re the sort of person who collects hand built Peruvian instruments, or someone who likes to make noises other people will find annoying, then this is for you.
In terms of sound…have a listen to some of the videos I’ve included here and you’ll notice it pretty much sounds like a wooden box with a divider in it. Personally, I’d avoid soloing with it, and busking it alone will get you precisely nowhere (unless, again, you compensate with some really spangly decoration).
However, if you want an easy project for a weekend that isn’t going to stop you getting important things like blog posts written, then this is probably for you. Although I cannot stress enough how much pain you can avoid by not being lazy with the sand paper – so once you’re done, start rounding off those corners for a happier cajón playing experience.
Disclosure: Meinl “Make your own Bongo Cajón” Assembly Kit supplied by Hi-Fi Tower, who want you to know about their awesome portable pa systems.