From Santana to Shakira to Marc Anthony, Prince Royce, Nicky Jam, and beyond, Latin pop music has been – and remains – a powerful and consistent (powerfully consistent? Sure – why not?) force in mainstream culture for decades. Aside from those who simply enjoy listening to the music, individuals with aspirations of actually playing the music have a very “user friendly” portal to this particular genre via Latin hand percussion instruments.
MMR recently spoke to a handful of suppliers in this field, ranging from the strictly “traditional” to the decidedly hightech, in order to get a bead on what’s trending for this market segment.
Latin hand percussion instruments seem to be – at least by some reports – experiencing a surge in popularity of late. Have you been noticing this and, if so, to what do you attribute the trend?
Derek Zimmerman: We have noticed this surge in hand percussion. The last few years have been very much about the cajón. The ease of playing cajón makes it accessible to a broader customer base and there’s been a ripple effect that has resulted in cajón users other percussion instruments such as shakers, bells and some even making the jump into congas. Additionally, hand percussion, and in particular, AfroCaribbean percussion has increasingly become mainstream in all levels of education, especially at the college level. With today’s marketplace, more and more gigging musicians are playing acoustic, “coffee house” gigs and percussion is an affordable, sonically appropriate choice for these types of live performances.
Luis Cardoso: Yes, we have definitely noticed this and we experienced significant growth in 2016 as a result of it. We attribute the growth to a number of factors: an increase in popularity of Latin and Latininfluenced music; more choice in crossover instruments with strong appeal to drumset players; the boom in cajóns sparked interest by nonLatin players in other Latin instruments; more Latin artists joining nonLatin bands, like Gon Bops artist Daniel de los Reyes with the Zac Brown Band.
Drew Armentrout: In my view, this has been a growing category for the past several years. However, currently the percussion market is relatively flat. In recent years, cajóns have been the numberone hand percussion products, when previously djembes were a very popular instrument. I can attribute this popularity to a number of factors: Increased numbers of new, often younger players; a greater availability of instruments (more choices, especially with cajóns); and lower price ranges that can attract new players. Additionally, guitarists and singer/songwriters have been a major demographic for purchasing these instruments and incorporating them into their performances – again, especially with the cajón.
Lane M. Davy: For us, having just acquired Toca, it’s a little too soon to have experienced a trend, upward or otherwise in the broader hand percussion instrument market. We have been doing quite well with the A Tempo line of cajóns and I believe the education and church markets are contributing to that success.
How would you describe the typical enduser of Latin hand percussion?
DA: Age, of course, varies. The 2035 age group would be an estimate, but I would hesitate to exclude older players. Skill level tends to range from beginners to novices/semipros who likely have some previous experience playing hand percussion. As mentioned earlier, guitarists and singer/songwriters have definitely been a growing customer base.
LC: I don’t know that there is a typical enduser in this category. We are seeing a fairly wide range across the board here, from singers just learning to play their first cajón, to older, more experienced musicians who want to upgrade to higher quality instruments.
LD: It really depends on the instrument. The cajón is such an accessible piece of hand percussion that I think you see a wider range of ages and skill levels than with the AfroCuban drums like congas and bongos. That being said, the recreational drumming movement has helped make everyone more comfortable with playing hand drums for fun. Taken as a whole, I think the bulk of the unit sales are still with the hobbyist or weekend warriors.
DZ: Latin percussion has such a broad product mix from high-end congas to small shakers it is challenging to narrow down or use the 80/20 rule when analyzing our customer base. LP has penetration in all price points and sectors including early music making with our Rhythmix line. That being said our core customer is the professional/ working percussionist and drummer. LP is the first choice for the pro/semipro based on the sound, quality, looks and availability of our congas, timbales, cowbells and accessories. LP also has a large part of its business with the hobbyist by having a full assortment of cajóns at all price points. In our customer research, we have also learned that build quality is one of the top considerations when purchasing and LP prides itself on our craftsmanship and durability so that is a huge selling point to consumers.
What specific models of these types of instruments are your own brand’s hottest sellers at the moment?
LD: For Toca, we do really well with the African instruments: djembes and such. If we stick to the Latin hand percussion items, we do very well with the Synergy conga and bongo sets. Also, the A Tempo El Artesano cajón has been a huge success.
DZ: Cajóns in general have been hot for us at all price points. In particular, the LP Black Box has been a very strong seller for us. This has a lot to do with it being an award winning cajón that sounds fantastic at the $99 price point. The LP Americana Groove Wire is also doing very well for us based on it being the opening price point of our Americana “Made in America” series. Additionally our Jam Blocks continue to be a solid seller for us.
LC: Cajóns are still our hottest seller, but we also have seen an increase in sales of midtohigh end congas, and in hand percussion instruments and bells. But definitely, cajóns are still the hottest sellers.
DA: In January 2016, Roland introduced the EC10 ELCajón, which has been very popular. The EC10 EL (Electronic Layered) Cajón is actually an acoustic cajón with builtin triggering, internal sounds, and a speaker. In addition to the acoustic cajón sound, the player can simultaneously add percussion and electronic sounds, which increases the potential use in a wider variety of musical styles and settings. In September of 2016, Roland introduced the EC10M, which is a product designed to use with any acoustic cajón. The EC10M includes a highquality condenser microphone that clips onto the sound hole of an acoustic cajón and is then connected to the EC10M Mic Processor, which not only amplifies the sound of the acoustic cajón, but also includes internal percussion and electronic sounds that can be layered with the acoustic cajón. This award-winning product is getting wider attention, and not only are professionals interested in the EC 10M, it has also captured the attention of semipros and hobbyists as well.
Do you have any upcoming or recent product releases in this category that you’d like to share with our readers?
LC: Yes, we are excited about the release of our Luisito Quintero Signature Timbales, our reissue Mariano Congas and a unique new cajón we developed with the legendary Walfredo de los Reyes Sr.
DZ: Last year we introduced a line of Stave Cajóns that a truly represent LP’s legacy of innovation and great sound. This cajóns are made from conga staves for a really unique look that translates to fantastic sonic qualities. The drum has a fatter belly that reacts like as much bigger drum with super low bass tones while the narrow top section plays like a smaller drum with sharp, crisp slap tones. This combination give the drum a really broad sonic range to go along with it’s one of a kind look. This year we added the LP1406WB “Whiskey Barrel” cajón that has decorative bands reminiscent of a rustic whiskey barrel. The look of this combined with the sound is going to be a home run for dealers. Additionally we introduced the new Uptown Series congas creating a new price point for what is in essence a professional conga. The series feature our Comfort Curve II rims and a stunning “Sculpted” finish made of Ash wood. With the drums prices from $399 $434 the consumer get s an amazing professional level drum at a price previously unavailable.
LD: For Toca, we have several projects already in place, but it’s a little too soon for a sneak peak. I’ll just say that we’ve received a lot of requests to bring back certain models that were discontinued and we also have all new models and designs already in the works. You will see new introductions as soon as Summer NAMM. For A Tempo, there are the new Artesano Bongos, which highlight the skill of the A Tempo workmanship. We also expect the performance series of A Tempo cajóns, which have a surprising number of features for $199, to do very well.
What are your expectations for the Latin hand percussion market in 2017?
DZ: We expect to see growth in all areas for 2017. The LP brand and products continue to be the predominant choice of players at all levels and that business will continue to be solid. We have introduced products that filled in some price points in many categories that our customers have asked for and this will help create new business for dealers and us. Finally, we have just completed our second year since the acquisition by DW. We have gotten over the hump of the transition and are firing on all cylinders. We are super excited for 2017.
DA: Although there has been a tapering off in percussion sales, I believe there is an opportunity for Roland in particular to reenergize the market with our unique solution-based percussion products. In addition to the EC10 and EC10M, Roland’s HandSonic hand percussion instrument was first introduced in 2000, specifically targeting acoustic hand percussionists, and the latest version of that instrument has been accepted by both DJs and the EDM/techno market, in addition to more traditional percussionists.
LD: It’s safe to say that we see a solid future for the hand percussion business. We expect the market overall to grow modestly this year. Accordingly, we already have plans in place to expand and grow the Toca lineup in many areas, including our Latin line of instruments.
LC: We are projecting continued growth in North America, and are expecting growth in select international markets. Based on what we are seeing and hearing from our U.S. and Canadian dealers, we expect 2017 will be a good year for this category.
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