Cajón-maker Builds on Decades of Lavish Experiences

“The tone is spectacular,” says Carrasquillo, who makes his cajóns out of Baltic birch. Photo by Tim Robison.

“The tone is spectacular,” says Carrasquillo, who makes his cajóns out of Baltic birch. Photo by Tim Robison.

Art and drums. In the spectacular, color-drenched designs of his cajóns, Edward Carrasquillo, owner of Tribalscapes Music Factory, combines those two passions.

“When I was in Puerto Rico, I used to take large gourds off the trees in my grandmother’s yard. I would make an instrument called the güiro, a Latin-American musical instrument,” Carrasquillo says. “It’s a beautiful, raspy kind of sound, and it adds a great flavor to Latin music especially. I used to be in the backyard with a metal file and screwdrivers trying to clean out these seedpods and create these instruments. And I would paint them and everything, like the professionals would do.”

Carrasquillo traces the beginning of his professional career to age 13, in South Florida. “My father used to sell my artwork out of my portfolio from school in the hospital he worked at,” he recalls. “I was actively drawing and painting, and they thought that my work was viable, so he framed up a few pieces.”

He continued painting and sculpting, getting some commission work, and, during college, began doing pieces for local nightclubs. “Clubs at the time were becoming much more artistic,” he says. “They were hiring out sculptors and artists to transform the interiors of entire restaurants or nightclubs, and I would do these massive sculptures to hang on the wall in polyester foam and fiberglass and resin. I would create virtually anything, from life-size mermaids to oversized sharks swimming out of VIP rooms.”

Carrasquillo did huge sculptures for the Baja Beach clubs in Fort Lauderdale and South Beach. “People were looking to have something over the top, and very different, so I always provided that. Forty-foot date palms all around the dance floor with coconuts, it didn’t matter what it was, I accomplished it and learned a lot in the process. I had to develop new techniques on the fly in order to create the types of illusions and images that they were looking for.”

He worked out of Miami for 14 years. “I had a show that I put on from art show to art show called The Dreamscapes Experience, where I painted celestial scenes and deep-space scenes in front of an audience, with spray paints,” he describes.

His interest in percussion also continued. “I started to cut these big heart-shelled gourds, and put wooden skins on them. Then I started making drums out of old wooden salad bowls and hand-carved wooden vases from Indonesia. I would buy those, put a wood skin over them, and wood-burn beautiful pictures on top.”

Carrasquillo saw his first cajón at a house party in West Palm Beach. “I was totally mesmerized,” he remembers. “The sound was very woodsy and cool. It has so many textures: you can play the sides, the top, the front. I started building drums in every shape and size to experiment with the tone and richness, and I incorporated all of those elements into what I have today, which is a very ultra-modern-styled Peruvian box drum.”

As he was developing the drums, his fine-arts muse was also nudging him back into painting. “Rather than creating the cajón drum with a standard wood stain on the outside, I applied my talents as a fine artist and I started to create beautiful colors and amazing textures to these drums,” he explains. “My signature is my handprint on the outside of the drum, and the drum is completely colored like nobody’s ever seen before.”

The Tribalscapes Music Factory cajóns are built by Tim Johnson at TLC Woodcrafts in Hendersonville and finished at Carrasquillo’s studio. “To have Tim on the team to build my drums is just amazing. He’s a fine craftsman,” Carrasquillo says.

“Ed is such a perfectionist that he wasn’t going to give control of building his drums to anyone until he found another perfectionist,” quips Johnson.

They build with Baltic birch. “The tone of it is spectacular,” Carrasquillo says. “And I’m creating an outward look to these drums that nobody ever thought was possible from Baltic birch.” The front head, the tapa, is an eighth inch thick. The other panels are different thicknesses.

“It has to be totally lightweight and very portable, and it has to be extremely strong and extremely durable [for playing],” Carrasquillo explains. “What we’ve engineered into my drums is the ability to withstand that kind of punishment indefinitely.”

Edward Carrasquillo will demonstrate his Tribalscapes Music Factory cajóns at Tempo Music (244 N. Main St., Hendersonville) on Saturday, December 5 and Saturday, December 12, from noon-4pm. 828-693-8276. For more info, contact tmfdrums2@gmail.com.

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