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

Box

 

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).

 

Glueing
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.

 

Finished!

 

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.

Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred

From Cody ChesnuTT:

“My hands were tingling because I got to sing on the actual microphone that Al Green recorded with. Nothing has changed. The down-home acoustic treatments are still in place.”

 

Except, outside of the studio, things have changed since Al Green recorded there. The world has turned round several times since the ’70’s.  That quote gives you some idea of what this album must mean to the man with his name on the cover, but it doesn’t tell you anything about just how much he must have going on in his mind. Cody ChesnuTT is very much living with and reflecting on the society of today throughout the most authentically soulful piece of recorded music of 2012. Landing on a Hundred‘s genius lies in modernising the message whilst preserving the medium.

Here’s the video for his latest single, ‘Til I Met Thee’, out the 18th March:

 

 

Buy the album (links at the bottom of the page), get hold of some headphones and allow yourself to wallow in the aching sense of hurt and wisdom in the voice, the strings, the shuffle grooves and horn melodies. Written and arranged in a traditional style, the songs use the natural volume and brightness of brass to boost the song’s volume, playing stirring snatches of melody brought to life by the instruments’ raw beauty. Even so, the album sounds fresh and to keep it sounding like something made in 2013, it’s been given all the modern love on the production side. Seriously, anybody having a bad day just needs to spend a bit of time with this.

 

 

There are tracks that capture the sound and passion that lies within great soul as a music of sex, protest, hedonism and hurt. The lyrical themes seamlessly interlock with the music they are accompanying, as the brass and strings squeal exasperated platitudes under the vocal line in ‘That’s Still Mama’. ‘What Kind of Cool Will We Think Of Next’ is typical of the classy and intelligent approach to an entire song, the refreshing freedom that has been given to the band members means that every phrase is full of interpretations and intensity. I swear you can almost follow each session musician individually as they all lend the kind of expression that sometimes feels confined to recordings originating in America’s South.

Also, did I mention the shuffles?

 

Is it just me who wants to see this guy play with Robert Glasper?

 

This album is almost like an origin of the species, or Hawking’s A Brief History of time, in that it’s a statement to the world of everything it’s creator has accomplished to date. It’s a historic assertion of everything the man is right now, a snapshot into his mind and thoughts – carefully mediated through music to bring themselves to you in their best possible light and with great care taken to the clarity and presentation of the message. This is one album that has significantly benefitted from the hours of thought and meditation poured into its sonic presentation.

Do you like Stax, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown or Stevie Wonder? If you do and you don’t yet own this record, you’re missing the only album available today that truly understands you. I’ve been playing it for a few weeks now, and its made for an incredible travel companion. This is the soundtrack for today, written in the key of life and it contains more than enough soul, heartache and comment for humanity to reflect on as we move through 2013.

Cody ChesnuTT is performing at the Concorde 2 on Tuesday 19th March 2013 – get tickets here.

Still one of my favourite songs by The Roots:

Buy Landing on a Hundred:

iTunes

One Little Indian Records (UK)

Stream: Submotion Orchestra – Blind Spot

For the dedicated followers of any artist, experiencing the live performance of amazing records can lead to a very personal, almost religious experience unfolding inside your own head. Somehow, in the strange mess of coincidence (or not?) that lead to evolving the human brain, and our self-awareness, our noggins have found the space to allow us to stand in the middle of a crowd of strangers and connect with the sound created on stage. Perhaps it links up with the listening experience most people enjoy outside of live performance – the personal space created by headphones. Walkmans and iPods allow everyone to block all other distractions and fill their entire aural sensory experience with the music created by their favourite artists.

Transpose that into the middle of a Submotion Orchestra set, in a venue as snug as Concorde 2 (they’re there again 13th Oct), and you potently mix a recipe for an explosion of brain chemistry. The way they combine influences seems to encourage and welcome personal connection. The vocals cut through your skull and communicate on a carnal level that has little do with anything as modern as language. Despite the contemporary sound and the modern tools, the band are able to touch all the nerve cells usually reserved for quiet contemplation in the personal space, and bring them into the public sphere of a musical performance. Their music seems entirely suited to this purpose, remaining faithful to dancers, intellectuals and casual listeners alike.

This latest track offers me exactly what I wanted. More music that seems to touch all the bases at once, inspiring both the mind and the body to embrace the sound.

Continue reading “Stream: Submotion Orchestra – Blind Spot”