Musical cuboids that echo business too

Markus Meyer checks out completed cajons at his workshop in Halle, Germany. (File photo, January 18, 2016.)


An enterprising music-lover is producing what look like simple wooden boxes, but are in fact cajons, a fast-rising musical instrument which all the hippest bands now want to play. “The first time I saw a cuboid like this was at a concert. I was thrilled,” Markus Meyer recalls. The German, who had been fascinated by musical instruments since childhood, promptly built his first cajon, based on a description he found on the internet.
Captivated by the rhythms it produced, a number of his friends asked for similar ones for themselves. A cajon, which means “box” or “crate” in Spanish and is believed to originate among black slaves in Peru, is usually played by sitting astride it and hitting the front part with the palms, knuckles, nails or any other body part that comes into range.
Meyer has since built more than a thousand of the percussion boxes and sold them in Europe and as far away as Japan and South Korea. “We have been doing very well. eBay is one of our sales channels,” he said.
“I’ve held on to the first one I make, which will be featured in my planned cajon museum,” says Meyer, now owner of the company Cajon-Direkt in the city of Halle, Germany which employs four people.
African-origin people in South America are thought to have devised the instrument in the 19th century after their traditional drums had been taken away from them.
They started knocking out the same rhythms on crates used to ship codfish or oranges.
Since then, the Afro-Peruvian cajon has established itself worldwide as a percussion accompaniment that transcends music genres. It is often heard in acoustic music, but has also gradually made its way into electronic rock, pop and folk-rock music in the past decade. One advantage of the cajon is its ability to mimic the sounds of different sorts of drums with just slight alterations of the strokes and sitting positions, making it a favourite among small bands and street
After discovering cajons a few decades ago, Spanish flamenco groups started to equip their crates with a wires to add a rattling sound. While studying pharmacy, Meyer built cajones in his free time. Toward the end of his degree course, he had to ask himself which profession he was to pursue – pharmacist or professional cajon-maker.
In 2006, he founded his company and now builds hundreds of cajons every year. “We cater to retailers and sell the instruments including accessories on the internet,” says Meyer. “We stumbled into a niche market at the right time.” Apart from his company, there is another notable cajon maker in southern Germany, while the rest of Germany’s supply of cajons is mainly imported from Asia.
Street musicians and small groups often play the instrument along with guitars. “The ease of learning it has helped its spread. Anyone who has a good sense of rhythm can start
playing it with his hands immediately and master the instrument in 20 minutes,” claims Zoeller. Everything hinges on choosing the right plywood for a cajon.
“We use beech exclusively,” says Meyer. A cajon is held together by just glue and finally screws. Meyer taught himself all the technique. The cajons he makes in Halle are exported throughout Europe, particularly to France and England.
“The company manufactures around 30 different cajon types in various sizes, including home-assembly kits, which are popular among children. “It takes them about half an hour. Then drumming time can start,” says Meyer.

A press holds plywood as it dries in Markus Meyer's workshop in Halle, Germany. He is one of Germany's two main manufacturers of cajons, a percussion instrument. (File photo, January 18, 2016.)

Markus Meyer checks out completed cajons at his workshop in Halle, Germany. (File photo, January 18, 2016.)

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