CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: Afro-Cuban Rumba Cajon - an amazing Ax

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pin It


Afro-Cuban Rumba Cajon - an amazing Ax

The Cuban Cajon, a simply incredible instrument, has captured my artistic mind. I love the ax, and speak best through it.

It has a fascinating history, and is so representative of many things I love so much about Cuban music and culture. Prevailing winds of tradition carrying the community onward, despite the swift under-current of stiff oppression.

There is something so Cuban about making something absolutely beautiful out of an ordinary object. Something other cultures would discard as useless, to be tossed on the fire..

Often short on resources, Cubanos have learned how to get the most out of everything. And the Cajon speaks to the history and culture of the people, though us.

In the right hands, these ordinary boxs are fine instruments.

Once upon a time, I saw a short clip of Jesus Alfonso playing quinto cajon. ..clean, tight, in the pocket.. and so folkloric sounding... That's all it took for me, I was hooked!

Jesus, for me, played this instrument with such grace and purpose, the Cajon would lay down like a big lazy dog ready to have his belly scratched.

Another of my favorites, Maestro Pancho Quinto of Yoruba Andabo was one of the top Cajon player in Cuban Rumba history. He was a mentor to, and good friend of two of my teachers: Chirs Flaco Walker and Jose Barroso. He also taught some of the heaviest local traditionalists.. such as Michael Spiro, and has profoundly impacted Rumba here in California.

So, I feel close to the man, although we never met.

He had such a swinging style, love his recorded work as well, of course. he could make wood sound like butter.

Something very basic and elemental about a Cajon - simply a five sided box, often crudely built, and rightly so. Growing better sounding as it's beaten into submission, the cracked ones often have that special something we are listening for.

Such simplicity of design, so powerful to play, so heavy with significance.

The dry earthy thuds, dropping your belly from under your chest..

Bright, thick handed slaps echoing through the alleys of Havana like cracks of a baseball bat stroking a ball into left field.

The power and strength this instruments often demands, lends a heavy and serious tone to a playful Rumba.

Nothing can stand your hair on end like these instruments. Occasionally played with such force as to destroy the ax, cracking the wooden box with our hands.

Yea, you feel it, and the rhythms flow in a forceful and inevitable kind of way.

Although this post is about Rumba, Palo is also played with Cajons like these.

The serious heaviness of Palo ceremony somehow seeps into the plaing of the Cajon in Rumba, for me.. lending a fierce and powerful element that cuts through the often playful songs.

These axs were in on the development of Rumba, played on the docks where young AfroCubanos forged the Columbia..

..and this ax is well used on the cutting edge of Rumba today, by the new generation of young cats from the houses of Los Chinitos and Rumberos de Cuba, for example, in their Guarapachangueos. The instrument is here to stay.

You see, the Cajon was the instrument that helped keep Rumba alive, when it was forbidden, by government, or by economics. Rumba will survive, and the Cajon is living testament.

The fishermen down on the docks, picked up the empty Cod box's and went to town.. developing some of the fattest Columbias.. check out this clip

Ive been very fortunate to be around some great Cajon makers in the area.

The great Enrique Carreras made the best sounding Cajons Ive ever heard, and he taught both Pili Martinez, and Irish Rick McKinney how to make them.. many of the Cajons pictured were built by these three cats, including one pictured here on top of the Isla quinto that is played by the great Roman Diaz (pictured with sunglasses below w/brown hat), Bonkocero for Yoruba Andabo and high ranking Abakua. Note the slightly larger Matanzas style.. Havana style being played by Jesus at the top of this post, for example..

Chris Walker, pictured here with Mijail La Brada and Maestro Carlos Aldama checks in to say "The smaller box i am playing in the photo of me Mijail and Carlos was given to me by Pancho Quinto as a gift when he was here in 1997.
The big one that Mijail is playing in that photo was built by me. I believe Spiro owns it.

a gift from Pancho.. what an honor!

And the tradition continues here in the bay.

Here is a clip of cats here locally, Irish Rick and Mejail la Brada, laying it down on a sunny spring day last month..
The last clip here is of local Cajon masters Pili Martinez and Sandy Perez at La Pena in Berkeley. Both these cats make these instruments scream like no other Ive seen. What I would give to have the technique of these cats! Their slaps are like gunshots.. so fat!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for checking in, please feel free to contribute.

Feel free to contact me directly at