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Cajon Reflections with Andrej Vujicic

Andre Vujicic has the rare qualities of being both an amazing player and an inspirational teacher. He’s learned from some of the best including Paco de Lucia’s sextet member Manolo Soler and has collaborated with great Flamenco artists including Lole Montoya, Manuel Molina, Familia Montoya,  Juan Jose Amador, Enrique El Extremeño, Pastora Galvan, Rosario Toledo, and La Tana, Eduardo Trasierra, “La Tremendita”,  Encarnita Anillo, and Amador Rojas among others. 

He’ll be in Sydney running workshops this summer and here he shares a bit about his journey with the Cajon.

What inspires you about playing the Cajon?

It is a simple instrument which helps you concentrate on a variety of different and complex patterns with simple sounds rather than a variety of different sounds within simpler patterns. I spend hours daily playing it and never get bored. Also not easy to get a really good sound, I am just now starting to get happy after nearly 18 years, and still a lot of work to do! Sometimes the simple things are the hardest. I love its visceral sound, it is atonal and dry which makes it perfect for flamenco. I feel I can express myself through it, hopefully taking it to another level. It is the inexhaustible depth of flamenco that still keeps me under it’s spell.

Who are some of your key influences?

Originally my three main influences were Rubem Dantas, Ramon Porrina and Antonio Carmona, they really laid out the main patterns, styles and breaks for all of us, later Manolo Soler, Tino di Geraldo, Lucky Losada, and Jose Carrasco among others, and of course the amazing El Piraña, who opened up a whole new Pandora’s box.

You’ve been involved with the Cajon for a long time – can you talk a bit about how you have seen the Cajon and its role in Flamenco change over the years?

In one of the few classes I received from Manolo Soler (who first worked as a dancer in Paco de Lucia’s sextet and then as a percussionist) he showed me one of the two cajons that were used when the cajon was first introduced to flamenco in Paco’s sextet. That thing was much closer to a wooden box than a musical instrument…really coarse… it was still hard to get a hold of a good one in the 90’s, you had to have it made, then fiddle with it yourself. Hardly anyone knew what it was outside Peru and Spain and it would usually get a few laughs and smirks.

Photo by Adam Newby

Fast forward twenty years it is hard to imagine a standard percussion kit without it. Within flamenco it went from an emulator of palmas and footwork, slowly elbowing its way into becoming a respected equal.

It opened up the much needed frequency spectrum introducing lows and highs in the predominantly midrange mix. Artistically it introduced Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Cuban even Brazilian (courtesy of Rubem) grooves, which the dancers and guitarists picked up on. Rhythmically flamenco has been enriched since its incorporation. Sometimes the influences are overpowering and the overall result can sway too much towards the Latin groove especially in the Madrid and Barcelona scene. In Seville and the south, being more traditional, the cajon still fights for its place within the genre, in search for a distinct and elusive flamenco sound.

Do you work in any other genre apart from flamenco? What differences do you notice in the way you approach the Cajon?

Rarely, I live in Seville and there is a lot of great flamenco around. Flamenco works differently to most genres. It is built on particular rhythmical phrases which have a beginning, middle, and a definite end which you build up to. You also have shorter phrases , things change a lot, it is more like poetry than prose. You really have to be in the moment , almost ahead of time.  It is not so much about ornamentation of a set beat (as it can be in some other genres) as about finding the essence.

Photo by Adam Newby

At a good level, what the singers, dancers or guitarists have to say in these phrases are like pearls of wisdom, and you really have to find the right spots to support rhythmically in order to let them shine. This is the hardest part. As a cajon player you have to do this intuitively with a lot of energy and determination, especially in dance. You have to be like an anvil that the dancer uses to shape his art.  The impact between two hard surfaces causes the spark. The understanding and trust has to be complete for the magic to happen. I don’t feel that intensity of interaction on stage with other genres and that leaves me underwhelmed. It is very easy then to overplay or play to loud in search of a response.

What advice can you give to people wanting to learn to play Cajon?

Focus on the right technique to get the right sounds first and a good differentiation between your bass, slap and ghost notes. Work on having different volume levels for each sound to be able to play very softly or strongly as required. Don’t overplay, focus more on the bass sound and less on the slaps.

How can people connect with you?

www.puertoflamenco.com, info@puertoflamenco.com, www.facebook.com/Puertofamenco 

For info on Andrej’s summer Cajon workshops contact: Byron at byron@learncajon.com or on 0402 128 404

To check out Andrej in action visit:

Flamenco trio – Calle Abierta 

Puerto Flamenco & Arte Kanela with Cat Empire

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