Al Ritmo del Cajón

The sound of more than 500 pairs of hands filled the sky as they played a cajón during a Peruvian fall. The chaos that normally lingers and defines Lima could not compete with the sound waves of one of the most elemental instruments of Afro-Peruvian music, and for one afternoon the noise of traffic did not reign supreme.

When I first arrived in Peru one of the events I found out about almost immediately was the weeklong festival, held each fall, to celebrate the cajón, a percussion instrument widely associated with Afro-Peruvian music. I had the opportunity to speak with several musicians about this event and finally, eight months into my grant, I was getting the opportunity to attend (and document) this festival. For the last four years the Festival Internacional de Cajón Peruano has been celebrated at the Centro Cultural de España in Lima, and this year was no different. The event kicked off with several musical workshops taught by musicians from all over the world. Musicians from other Latin American countries and Europe each had an opportunity to share their specific talents with anyone who wanted to learn more about percussion instruments, not just the cajón, from all over the world. The picture below demonstrates one instructor as he teaches the opening workshop at the outset of the festival:

What was great about these workshops is that they were free of charge. Anyone, regardless of socio-economic status or musical ability was invited to attend. I spoke with the cultural center’s director, Juan Sanchez, and the festival’s director, Rafael Santa Cruz, and it was great to hear that making this event accessible to all publics is one of the most important aspects strived for. I felt good knowing that this festival strived to be inclusive of all audiences, and it was during the festival’s main event, la gran cajoneada, that this credo demonstrated its power.

As the picture above demonstrates, more than 500 hundred people, many of them students, showed up on a Saturday morning to demonstrate their passion for the Peruvian cajón. All 520 attendees practiced playing in sync for more than two hours before they finally all played together for the final cajoneada. I was lucky enough to have met the festival’s director, Rafael Santa Cruz, several months before the event, and as a result I was given permission to film the event from various different angles (including the rooftop of the Centro Cultural and even the festival stage!).

The festival came to a close a week after the gran cajoneada and I was glad I was able to take part in the weeklong activities. Seeing so much support shown for the cajón was pretty impressive. Even though Afro-Peruvian music can be quite traditional in sound, the fact that so many people, of all ages, turned up for this event demonstrates that the sounds of the wooden cajón continue to entice and liven up Peruvian and international audiences.

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