Building a Bank holiday bongo cajón

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.

6 bits in total - yup I think I can handle this.
6 bits in total – yup…I think I can handle this.

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).


Please note – the amp is not part of the cajon. It’s holding the lid down while the glue sets. Don’t let a lack of tools get in the way of building the ultimate cajón!


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
  • Sandpaper
  • Towels

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.


The Verdict:

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.


The End

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.

Billy Mather – Art in the Brighton Music Scene

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We’ve all been there… You become conscious of your surroundings for the first time in god knows how many hours and realize you’ve definitely taken advantage of one too many drink offers in a bar somewhere in Brighton. Dimly self-aware and currently micturating, you glance up and realise that dancing around you are lines and colours, grins and eyes and shapes that hint at what demons might occupy and enjoy the gradually ubiquitous blurring and slurring of your senses. A vague thought bubbles up about the artist behind it, but you’re too drunk and too determined to waste what’s left of your work-fried brain to think about it too much. So I’ve decided to write you this.

Instruments from Sofar Sounds Brighton

Billy Mather is an illustrator who lives in Brighton. Influenced primarily by the darker side of our music scene here, he seems to have a gift for channeling his thoughts into darkly comic expressions, scattering themselves across the seaside of sin from gig posters to toilet doors and pianos. He’s got plenty of other work too so check it all out on his site, link’s at the bottom.

Billy told me that he’s never forgotten a piece of advice given to him by one of his illustration tutors on the BA in Southampton. In art, there is a difference between being accurate and being believable. What comes out of this guy’s mind motivated by that phrase is some of the most distinctive art in the city, somehow managing to retain an incredibly strong sense of the artist’s character; even as the lines and colours begin to intertwine in your head and become part of your thought process. Just like editorial illustration accompanies words on a page, so his work complements and influences your internal monologue as you’re exposed to it.

Click to enlarge

For a Brighton local, the sense of familiarity that emanates from even the most twisted smile and reptilian eye in the center of his most contorted face feels commonplace and natural without ever needing to veer toward a convention. The faces in Billy’s work dance at the edge of recognition, demonically dancing on the ledge between chaotic artistic interpretation and comfortable verisimilitude, which is a long way of saying you really need to check this guy out and give him more work.

Unlike those last two paragraphs, the artwork never smacks of too much thought or trying too hard. It stands out in its naked honesty; it’s inclination to bend further towards expression than conformity. His work across the toilets of the Blind Tiger Club stretch out, allowed a luxurious amount of space yet still reaching further, expanding and moving as you look. Other pieces to watch out for around Brighton decorate Sticky Mike’s Frog bar and Northern Lights.

Please forgive the following phrase, (I promise I’m not just being lazy) but you really can’t sum his work up in words. That’s why this art exists. It expresses the feeling of standing in that space, the artist’s thoughts as he listens. Somehow, he translates the committee of voices that characterise an active mind and regiments them with ink and paint, producing expressions of the space or the event that simply couldn’t exist any other way.

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Billy’s Website


Sofar #291: Brighton – 26th Febuary 2013

Originally posted on the Sofar Sounds blog on the 4th March 2013.

Words/Editor: Adam Wilson (Website)

Photographers: Tony Jupp (Website) & Chris Poots (Flickr)

Sorry to tell you this, but you missed it. That’s it; the best Sofar Sounds gig to date and you (probably) weren’t there. I bet you’re glad I’ve written as much as I can to convey something of what you missed. (Unless you were there; if so, ignore the first bit and start reading from here).

As I walked in, a rectangular room packed wall to wall with bodies was there to meet me. All super sexy Sofar Sounds bodies of course, but even Sofar people have arms and legs that need to be carefully folded and tessellated to accommodate everyone. It’s funny though, how marking out your territory for the evening seems so important for those first five minutes… Then the music starts.



Marika Hackman opened up the night with a track called “Retina Television”, from her album “That Iron Taste” (released 25th Feb) stripped of everything save her voice accompanied by her guitar. Appearing before everyone as a loan figure in a packed room, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans she was at once disarmingly honest and absolutely magnetic.



As her set progressed, the eerie imagery and lonely delivery of her lyrics began to have an effect on us, catalysed by the Sofar atmosphere. Her music always slightly dodges your expectations, as you listen out for the phrase to end and the section to change, it lasts one more bar, or one less. Using what sound like simple, honest comments on elements of her life, Marika’s almost supernatural aura can completely fill the audience’s collective mind, using words to paint her peculiarly magical portraits across our perception.


Anna Phoebe, up next, is already well known for a career including collaborations with Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Roxy music, and being as a member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This violinist is a bit different to the rest. No one seems to have told her that they traditionally do as they’re told, suppressing their personality in the name of perfecting the execution of a composer’s manuscript.



Instead, her music blends her personality with the full range of her band’s influences, utilising the underlying mechanics that first supported the music of Duke Ellington as the rhythm section sets up a smooth bed of warm sonic layers, on top of which the incredibly skilled Anna weaves complicated but beautiful melodic lines, occasionally textured with palm muted guitar. The interspersing and complimentary themes on guitar and violin echo the playing of two other jazz greats, Coltrane and Davis. Despite these comparisons, the music is definitely not jazz. Anna brings her signature blend of the concert hall and the stadium, swapping the heavier, rockier side of what she does for a chance to play something more intimate and intricate.

More than a bit Po-Mo, retaining an ambiguity only occasionally punctured using leitmotifs that anchor your attention. The range of influences and their arrangement in the live set made it feel like a live artistic answer to Sgt. Peppers, perhaps helped by the addition of the distinctive tabla, piercing the musical mix with flurries of triplets that fill out the sound and introduce more ambivalence to any sense of cultural place brought about the traditional line up of guitar, electric bass and drums that make up the rest of her band.

This lady, who narrowly escaped the possibility of becoming a politician early in her career, succinctly demonstrated to us the results of a life’s complete dedication to perfection in all aspects of her chosen artistic craft.

Coming up next and snapping us out of a trance, blowing away all mental cobwebs, were CC Smugglers.



At Sofar, we can’t help but love bands that break the rules.  Continue reading “Sofar #291: Brighton – 26th Febuary 2013”

Listen to this – Sabrina Altan

It’s been a while since anything got me excited enough to inflict my opinions on the Internet (today that’s you), but that brief reprieve is now over. Something or someone (hint: it’s a someone) has me so jumpy and excited I just couldn’t make it through the weekend without letting you know about it. If you want my opinion (I hope so or this is really the wrong website to be on) if you’re not frantically Googling the name Sabrina Altan by the time you’ve heard the audio embedded here, I’m afraid you’ve probably been born with a complete lack of conscious thought and you’re most likely to be dangerously insane.


Go go go


She’s taken the basic elements of music best referred to as Neo-Soul and filled in the gaps with her Freudian superego. Quality Neo-Soul looks to both the past and the future – maintaining a fiery outer shell of musical elements swirling around the immense gravitational pull of the central performer, and Sabrina brings a comfortable confidence to her performance that staples her message to the front of your brain, while her band backdrop it all with the relaxed style of people who really know what the fuck they’re doing. The brief moments of explosive virtuosity shining out through each song launch each stunningly executed phrase into the next, as sultry verses suddenly mushroom into vigorously amorous choruses. Continue reading “Listen to this – Sabrina Altan”

Songs from a room: Sofar sounds Brighton

I want to make you aware of Sofar Sounds. The website gives a short, simple description:

“We have created a movement which brings music lovers together in secret living room locations to hear some of the world’s most cutting edge artists. In order to create an intimate and spellbinding atmosphere, we ask that nobody talk during performances.”

Here’s what it looks like:



A simple concept, but started in the same spirit that made me want to write this blog. It’s a platform for bringing people and music together in a memorable atmosphere, and by doing so, gives the art a way of recapturing its aura and authenticity. Bringing the quiet respect and reverie that accompanies a poetry reading and applying that to an art form that, at times, appears to be floundering in a miserable state, partly of its own creation.

In the good old days, it was easy to make people pay for music. They simply had to; there wasn’t an option. At first, people were able to sell recorded music in the form of written notation, distributing instructions on how to recreate the sound of the piece in your own home, using nothing more than a simple piano and your own voice. If you wanted to hear music, you had to learn how to play it. Or, you could find a friend who knew how, but you’d have to find someone willing, then sit down together and experience it, most likely with even more people involved. It was a group experience, shared interpretations of a composer’s vision. Otherwise, you’d have to go to a scheduled live performance. Music was impossible without investing either time or money, but most likely both.

Even with the arrival of mechanical reproduction, allowing for most of the 20th Century music industry to happen, the music industry held all the cards. Recording equipment was expensive. If a songwriter wanted to record, they had to find someone with enough money to buy and maintain this equipment, and they’d have to work out an arrangement with them to use their facilities in return for a fee, or a share in the profits of the music. The people who owned the equipment could make as many recordings as they liked, transforming various materials into objects that would recreate a musical performance in people’s homes. Whatever the specifics of the artist/manager/record company relationship, the audiences couldn’t get their mitts on the music of their favourite artist without going through the men who controlled the recording equipment.

Now though, we’re here. Digital reproduction allows any of us to make endless free, perfect copies of any music we own. We can call thousands of songs within a few moments of deciding we’d like to hear something, and all this does something to the power music can have to affect us. With fewer people respecting music as art, and with so many subcultures through the last century co-opted by mainstream companies and used in advertising, songs which may have once poignantly expressed a social injustice or beautiful captured a moment in time are shackled to this week’s special at Burger King or last month’s car insurance deals.


Continue reading “Songs from a room: Sofar sounds Brighton”

Live: The New Union at The Green Door Store, 21st June

Brighton based four piece, The New Union, are putting on their first headline show.

It’ll be at The Green Door Store, on the 21st June, with support from Wildcat Strike and Demob Happy.

Continue reading “Live: The New Union at The Green Door Store, 21st June”

CD Review: Collisions EP ‘Believe in This’

Chances are, you’ll know very quickly whether or not you like the CD Believe in This by Collisions. Their music doesn’t take its time to get to know you, to massage your ego, or gently prod at hidden desires. Instead, the band serves you a harmonious combination of sounds taken from nu-metal and contemporary dance music that could soundtrack a movie like Tron or the next space race. Using a calculated blend of rhythms to drive every song forward, the band’s real strengths are the way they’re able to give this EP a sense of mass, and acceleration. You can feel the weight constantly pressing on your mind, as each section of every track finds some way to ramp up the force. If this is your thing, and you’ll know that very quickly, it’ll leave you breathless and sweating, screaming out chorus lyrics like a medieval battle cry.

Collisions Brighton band

Continue reading “CD Review: Collisions EP ‘Believe in This’”