Peru: The Festival of the Peruvian Cajon

The Peruvian Cajon is a very commonly used instrument in Afro-Peruvian music and Peruvian music in general. It is believed to have originated in colonial times but it took its definitive form in the 20th century. In 2001 it was declared to be a “Cultural Heritage of the Nation”. Its use has extended to other parts of the world, most of all as a part of Flamenco music, stemming from Paco de Lucía's and his band's contact with this instrument in Peru in the 1970's.

The renowned Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuña is one of the people who has helped this instrument to become known throughout the world. Here we can enjoy it with a cajon solo in a concert:

Regarding the Cajon's use in contemporary Peruvian music, the web page Cajón Peruano [es] (Peruvian Cajon) tells us:

el cajón está presente prácticamente en todos los géneros de raíz afro (lundero, landó, festejo, alcatraz, toromata, panalivio, ingá, etc.), así como también acompañando al vals peruano, a la polka criolla, al one step, al pasodoble, al tondero y a la marinera.

Asimismo, el cajón es adoptado por los habitantes costeños de origen andino y empieza a ser utilizado por ellos para reinterpretar algunos géneros “tradicionales” y crear nuevas expresiones de música popular de la ciudad. Luego, coquetea con el rock y de ahí salta a las corrientes llamadas de música fusión, World Music y música étnica, entre otras.

The cajon is present in practically all genres of Afro-based music (lundero, landó, festejo, alcatraz, toromata, panalivio, ingá, etc.), as well as accompanying the Peruvian Waltz, the Peruvian Polka, the One Step, the Paso Doble, the Tondero and the Marinera.

Also, the Cajon has been adopted by coastal inhabitants of Andean origin; they have begun to use it to reinterpret some “traditional” genres and create new expressions of popular city music. Moreover, it flirts with rock and from there it makes a connection with other trends of music such as Fusion, World Music, and Ethnic Music among others.

This video showcases an example of the cajon played to a northern Marinera beat.

However this does not give us an idea of how popular the instrument is among Peruvians, above all along the coast, where there is no shortage of “cajon specialists” [es]. These are people whose work is teaching others to play this instrument and help with the Cajon festivals [es]. But what is a Cajon festival and what takes place during one? These specialists explain:

Un Festival de Percusión que tiene al Cajón Peruano -instrumento de percusión de origen afroperuano- como anfitrión. Conciertos, conferencias, muestra de videos, clínicas musicales y clases maestras que tienen a la percusión como protagonista. Diversos géneros y escuelas, variedad de instrumentos. Cajón, batería, congas, tabla india, timbal, cajita, marimba, tamborete, checo, pandeiro, y percusión sinfónica, criollo, jazz, cantautor, afroperuano, fusión, etc.

It is a Percussion Festival that showcases a Peruvian Cajon -a percussion instrument of Afro-Peruvian origin. Concerts, conferences, video exhibition, music clinics and classes in which percussion plays a leading role. Various genres and schools, a variety of instruments. Cajon, drums, congas, Indian tabla, timbal, cajita, marimba, tamborete, checo, tambourine, and symphonic percussion, native music, Jazz, singer-songwriters, Afro-peruvian, Fusion, etc.

The festival's fifth anniversary took place this year and it was a complete success; particularly for the activity known as “La Cajoneada” which consists in bringing together the largest number possible of cajon players. This time more than 1,400 cajon players were brought together [es], which beat the previous Guiness Record from the 2009 festival that brought together 1,050 cajon players. Rafael Santa Cruz [es], the event's organizer, commented [es] on the reason for the Cajon's popularity to a local news station: “it's very therapeutic, in fact they are using it often in music therapy. It can also be used in a group setting.”

In the following video I was able to capture the last part of the final Cajoneada that was performed in the Plaza de Armas in Lima this year:

Tribute was paid [es] only moments before to the previously mentioned musician Alex Acuña with the Medalla de Lima (Medal of Lima) for having dedicated the whole of his life to music and spreading Peruvian culture abroad. The event had not even finished when the cajon players began to party among themselves; I was able to record some of it:

Two other videos show how the event continued.

The Cajon spreads joy and fun among people of all ages and transcends racial and social backgrounds, as is mentioned [es] in the Corresponsales Escolares (School Correspondents) blog from the newspaper El Comercio (The Commerce), where a father and son who are cajon players are interviewed:

“Es un orgullo tocar el cajón, especialmente cuando salgo fuera. Me gusta mucho la idea de esta congregación de gente”,

“Esta es una oportunidad de motivación para reencontrarnos con nuestros antepasados”

“It is an honor to play the cajon, especially when I play outside. I really like the idea of this congregation of people”,

“This is a very motivating opportunity to meet our ancestors”

Although it could seem somewhat anecdotal, this is very important with respect to the cultural identity of members of the Afro-Peruvian community. As Rafael Santa Cruz points out [es]:

Así como existe en el Perú una “historia oficial” que prácticamente excluye a los afroperuanos de la vida pasada del país, existe también una posición de no reconocimiento a los aportes de los mismos. En el caso del cajón este aporte es claro, contundente e indiscutible. El cajon es un elemento real y vital de la resistencia de los afroperuanos.

Just as in Peru there is an “official history” that practically excludes Afro-Peruvians from the country's past, there too is a lack of recognition of the contributions of these people. In the case of the Cajon this contribution is clear, convincing, and undeniable. The Cajon is real and vital element of the Afro-Peruvian struggle.
Post originally published on Juan Arellano's personal blog.


  • […] Peru: The Festival of the Peruvian Cajon, Juan Arellano, English translation by Greg Ahlswede (Español aquí): The Peruvian Cajon is a very commonly used instrument in Afro-Peruvian music and Peruvian music in general. The fifth anniversary of the Cajon Festival took place this year and it was a complete success, particularly for the activity known as “La Cajoneada” that was able to gather more than 1,400 cajon players, which beat its own previous Guiness Record. – El cajón peruano es un instrumento muy usado en la música afroperuana y criolla. Este año se realizó la quinta versión del Festival del Cajón y fue todo un éxito, sobre todo la actividad conocida como “La Cajoneada” que logró reunir más de 1,400 cajoneros, lo que batió su propio anterior Record Guiness. […]

  • […] Peru: The Festival of the Peruvian Cajon Peru: Afro-Peruvian Christmas Music Peru: The Preference for Afro-Peruvians at Funeral Services Original post [es] published in Juan Arellano's personal blog. Written by Juan Arellano · Translated by Claudia Parra Translation posted 5 July 2012 14:24 GMT ·  Print version Tweet On June 8, the cultural event “What they didn't tell you about Afro-Peruvians” took place at the National Afro-Peruvian Museum. The objective of the event was to make the Afro-Peruvian history and culture visible. Juan Arellano shares information, videos and audio files of the event. […]

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