8/30/2010

Aqui, Entre Las Flores

  Well I finally got some pictures of the bajo cajon I built a few days ago. A very fun project. I ended up going with the "Clave y Guaguanco" model. I originally wanted to go with a different size, but as I was making one for my friend at the same time, the economy of the wood made me change my mind.
My friend wanted a slightly larger model for more bass. Oddly enough, the two cajons sound very similar, with the bigger one being a bit louder.

Anyways, I was going for a kind of retro look, what with the leather trunk handle. I originally got the handle for an old drum restoration, but it didn't look quite right. Two years later the handle finds a home. The drawer pulls for the feet were also a fun idea to kind of complete the look. I'm planning on keeping this cajon around the living room, so that is the main reason for the look. Nothing wrong with plain cajons at all.


So this is my "Yambu setup". The bass cajons really add to a nice yambu. The dry and low cajon sounds don't get in the way of the vocals at all, which are so important to yambu. Just listen to some Carlos Embale to see what I mean. Yambu also has a quinto, often a cajon as well, but one cajon is enough for me. The funky look and quieter sound of my Isla quinto is the perfect companion for this cajon. I'm also planning on going to some flea markets and getting some old tarnished silver spoons for playing "cucharas" (palitos) on the top as well.

The artwork is some art nouveaus  flash I had. I enlarged it in Photoshop, printed it out and then traced it onto the wood using graphite paper. I dug out my old architecture school supplies for the painting and drawing and such. It was kind of fun to combine my college architecture education with my construction experience to make an instrument for my musical hobbies. I hadn't done this kind of graphic work by hand in a while so I was a little nervous and rusty, but it was very enjoyable. I wasn't sure how it was going to come out, I was hoping for a masterpiece, but expecting a disaster.

I was going to write a big article on cajons but there are others that I've used for inspiration and information that have written much better articles than I'm capable of. First without a doubt would be Thomas Altman who has very a wonderful article on cajons. Thomas' article also contains detailed construction directions.
Cajons by Thomas Altmann


Another great resource is the article by the percussionist Jorge Santos, who has written an article called "The Cuban Rumba Box". Available as a free PDF download.

Also Barry Cox has a beautiful article on Guarapachangeo, Los Chinitos and the cajons they use.
A cajón used by "Los Chinitos"
Photo: Antoine Miniconi

I also referred with Patricio Banchereau, who is an associate of Barry Cox's and runs several blogs on rumba mentioned here before. The beautiful decorations on the cajons he made for his students inspired me to decorate my own cajon. Patricio shared with me some excellent advice on cajons, a portion of which I will paste here:
One last things I'd like to add: the main sound element is your hand!!
You may be aware of that already, but in every style of Cuban percussion you have to stick your strokes and keep the hand on the instrument until you give another stroke. 90 percent of Cubans play like that (not everyone) - clave, timbal, bongo, congas, bata, catá, even bells, whatever, that's what I teach - nobody ever talks about that obviously, in some cases you can't (open strokes with stick in hand like timbal or arará or bembé) and the faster you play, the more impossible it becomes to do that to me the cajón is one of the instruments in which this method is very important - especially for bass tones but even for open strokes and slaps on the corners. Once you understand that, you have more chances to get a good sound - this is my theory and no Cuban ever taught me that - only careful observation for years just watch and you'll see - did u see El Niño from Muñequitos tocando clave (he just caresses the clave)
?
Patrico's cajons.

 There are others I'd like to thank as well. Marc Hough for his excellent cajon. Dan Callis for sure, sharing all the information on his cajon from Pancho Quinto.
Cajon by Marc Hough

I'm looking forward to playing this instrument. It was a lot of fun to make. I may be making more some time. I'm still interested in making a "Pancho Quinto" model as well.



8/10/2010

an afrocuban discography

Well it looks as if the indomitable Barry Cox has done it again. Barry has begun a new blog an afrocuban discography , an online catalog of exactly what you'd expect, Afrocuban music with beautifully scanned album covers, print dates, track listings, reissues, artists, recording company, etc.

This new blog is very nicely done. In addition to Barry's other blogs Vamos a Guarachar , El Cancionero Rumbero and his colleague Patricio's La Rumba no Es Como Ayer we have a veritable online encyclopedia of rumberos. songs, histories and now musical recordings of Cuban rumba and folkloric music.

8/09/2010

Cajon Construction and Dimensions


I'm gearing up to be making a Cuban style bajo cajon soon, maybe even this week, or possibly next. I've been fortunate to have corresponded with several individuals that either own or have measured cajons owned by notable rumberos. Also other individuals have taken the time and posted dimensions of cajons they have made on the web.

I've always liked the simplicity and versatility of the older style boxy cajons. I like how they are a chair and an instrument, you can play them with hands, sit on them, use spoons and play palitos. Also you can stick stuff inside it and carry things around in it like, well, a box!

Seems like some of the manufacturers are charging quite a bit for cajons, which doesn't seem right, to me at least. I mean cajons were originally free, or nearly so. Still not everyone is crafty, so there is nothing wrong with spending $300 on a wood box if you are so inclined. The Peruvian style is most common variant, probably because of it's association with flamenco. Seems like there are all kinds of curious cajon configurations; round, octagons, trapezoids, batajon's, conga cajons, bongo cajons, etc.

Me, I want a deep bass cajon. I want a instrument that is completely different than a conga, so I'm going for the sit on the top, played between the legs, suitcase shaped bajo cajon.
 In preparation for my new project, I made a documentation of all the cajon dimensions I have collected, with the source and pictures when available. I'm posting this document here for free download to any rumberos out there in the blogosphere that may be interested in making their own bajo cajon, or just in the cajons in general.
Bajo Cajon: Construction and Dimensions.  


construction and dimensions
Compiled by Geordie Van Der Bosch


8/03/2010

Interview with "Dr. Clave"


video

A friend of mine, David Crowder, recently attended the Humboldt State University  Explorations in Afro-Cuban Dance & Drum workshop. He took the opportunity to interview one of the instructors, David Peñalosa, while he was there.

Among some of us, David Peñalosa is affectionately referred to as "Dr. Clave". David Peñalosa is known for his in depth analysis of clave and research on the inter-connectivity of Afro-Cuban and African rhythms. In this interview David Peñalosa gives a brief description of his involvement and study of percussion.

David Crowder in addition to the interview also has an excellent website with several resources for rumberos and folkloric music.