The ‘cabasa’, just like the ‘shekere’, is a percussion instrument made of steel ball chains looped around a large cylinder. The cylinder sits attached to a long, thin wooden, plastic or metal handle. It is a popular hand percussion instrument, classed as an idiophone.

The Agbe, the original African variant of the cabasa, is made of dried oval or pear-shaped gourds with beads strung on the outside surface. Martin Cohen invented the cabasa which uses metal beads. His company, called LP, for Latin Percussion, created a more robust design known as an ‘afuche-cabasa’ in 1964. Despite difficulties in starting the business, he was able to make it thrive. He eventually became one of the most important percussion instrument innovators of the era.

Latin Percussion company and cabasa designs

Latin Percussion specializes in ethnic instruments, developed and produced to endure the demands of drum set use. Their instruments have exceptional longevity because of this sort of engineering. Surprisingly, this re-engineering allows for changes in sound and loudness according to the player’s preferences without sacrificing sound quality. As opposed to membranophone instruments, such as those of the drum kit, the cabasa does not produce sound through the vibrating membrane attached to the instrument’s frame.

The cabasa has a rattle-like sound, but it is more adaptable than other rattle-like instruments such as the maracas. This instrument connects the sounds of percussion and drum kits. It isn’t nearly as bright as cymbals or tambourines. However, it does accentuate an upper register clearly identified in a band mix. Furthermore, the performer might use a model with a stainless-steel cylinder for a brighter, more cutting sound. When it comes to pitch, the smaller the cabasa, the higher the pitch. In contrast, the bigger cabasas are more resonant.

Other designs and uses

Manufacturers can also use plastic as the main material of cabasa design. However, this design will not produce the complete sound that a Latin percussion ensemble might require. Cabasas constructed of plastic might only be appropriate for novices who are learning or trying out their first set of instruments.

Performers may achieve more complex timbres and rhythms by tapping and releasing the metal loop beads. They can also use foot pedals in conjunction with the instrument. Either the cabasa connects to a drum kit foot pedal, or a foot pedal specifically built for the instrument is used.

Aside from a variety of musical genres and settings, the cabasa also appears commonly in other settings. When it comes to music therapy, for instance, patients with neurological and physical disabilities, with limited hand movement, benefit from the usage of this instrument. The therapist uses the sound created by the cabasa to help patients develop neurological connections between hearing the sound and moving their hands.