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Afro Peruvian Percussion & the Cajon: Basic History & Rhythms

Adapted & quoted with permission from http://pertout.customer.netspace.net.au/lafroperuvian.htm


16th Century: African slaves were brought to Peru, which was under Spanish rule

The slaves were brought to be miners in the gold and silver mines of the great Andeas' mountains

Hundreds of slaves died.  The thin air of high altitudes and, most likely, very poor working conditions encouraged the death of hundreds, if not thousands of slaves.

The slaves were primary ruled by Spainards & Creoles.  In time, these masters sent many of the slaves to work in milder climates, especially the desert coastal lands. 

There the slaves worked on large, private farms called haciendas (hacienda n. A large estate or plantation in Spanish-speaking countries. The house of the owner of such an estate. - Answers.com)

Afro-Peruvian music & dance was born on the haciendas.  

"The beginnings of slavery in Peru were different from the rest of the Americas. Although in Brazil or Central and North American countries it was common to import large groups of slaves from the same African tribe, only small and geographically dispersed ethnic groups were brought to Peru. This was meant to discourage rebel movements around the tribal chiefs, and as such, made almost impossible the preservation of communal traditions. Without a common language or tribal authority to remind them of their roots, Peruvian slaves were progressively integrated into the culture and language of their new country. As a result Afro-Peruvian music is a unique blend of Spanish, Andean and African traditions.

"Centuries old, this music started to gain recognition in Peru about 40 years ago and it has became popular in the last 25 years. It was born in the coastal barrios (suburbs) and towns and was reconstructed and resurrected thanks to the work of a few artists and historians. Because the Africans were forbidden from playing their own instruments, percussion instruments developed out of the simplest household appliances; spoons, kitchen chairs, table tops, boxes, handclaps, until it reached this century with the creation of the cajon as a specific instrument to play music.

"The cajon which is a wooden-box in which the player sits on to play, is thought to have originated in Peru.  The cajon is made out of hardwood with the front cover being of a very fine layer of plywood. The cajon has an open circle cut at the back of the instrument. The player sits and plays two main strokes as well as a few other variations. The main two consist of: the tone of the box which is played with the full palm in the middle of the "head" (this stroke is usually a bass or palm sound on a variety of African derived hand drums found around the world) and the slap which is played on the edge of the "head" of the instrument (this sound also part of the technique used in many hand drums around the world).

"Other percussion instruments found in the traditional styles include the cajita and the quijada. The cajita is a small wooden box played with a stick in the right hand while the left hand opens and shuts the top in rhythmic time. The quijada is a donkey's jaw that is played by striking the wide part of the jaw with the fist to obtain a rattle sound (an instrument called a vibraslap is a copy of this instrument), and is also scrapped with a thin stick.

"Some of the popular Peruvian rhythms include the Marinera, Lando and the Festejo.  The Marinera in 6/8 time is an intricate and elegant dance of courtship accompanied by guitar, cajon, accordion and handclapping by onlookers.  Other important Afro-Peruvian rhythmic styles include the Lando, which comes from an African fertility dance called the Landu, and the Festejo which is a celebration song and dance in a fast 6/8.







"The Peruvian cajon is popular worldwide.  In the early 80's the Spanish master guitarist and composer Paco De Lucia incorporated a percussionist who played among other instruments the cajon in his group.  Since then, the cajon has became "the" percussion instrument of Spanish popular music.  Every "Flamenco" group incorporates a cajon player.  In 1994 I visited Madrid and to my amazement every music shop sold cajones, they even had fibreglass ones!  In conversations I had with musicians and shop owners I was informed that the cajon had became an essential part of "Flamenco" music.

"The Afro Peruvian style and instrumentation is unique among the African derived styles found in Latin America.  According to Fietta Jarque (liner notes - Afro-Peruvian Classics cd 1995) "this is secret music, it has been hidden for years in the coastal towns and barrios of Peru, it's not the guys with flutes and woolly hats, it's music of the black Peruvian communities.  This music survived barely within the black communities, and was not accepted outside of those communities until the spark of black pride, ignited in the 1960's caught fire in the 70's and 80's.  Now in the 90's, this music is the pride of Peru, cassettes are sold on the streets alongside techno, Megadeath and Andean folk groups.  And while it maintains its roots, it has attracted the creative talents of the best contemporary musicians, writers and poets who have furthered the evolution, growth and spread of this music.  It's not a secret anymore and it's yours to dance to".

"Highly recommended recordings include:

"Afro-Peruvian Classics
The Soul Of Black Peru  (Luaka Bop WB 9 45878 2) 

Peru's Master Percussionist  (Lyrichord 7417)

Musica Negra  (ASPIC X 55515) 

De Canto Y Baile  (Messidor 115936) 
Andadas  (Green Linnet GLCD 4009)"





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