Published: 05th January 2021
Here's the 26-year-old musician who made cajón wildly popular in Hyderabad. Check out his workshops too
Sai Teja from the band Capricio, takes us back to the moment when he first set his eyes on the instrument he eventually went on to master. He also tells us about the various workshops he conducts
How many of us have heard and watched the scintillating song Zariya by AR Rahman for MTV's Coke Studio? When Sai Teja watched the video, he could see only one thing — the cajón. Yes, the same Sai Teja who plays in the band Capricio. Yet, today, we want to introduce you not to Sai Teja from that band, but Sai Teja, the cajón player.
Back to the story. The 26-year-old, who is a tabla player, had never seen this box-shaped instrument on which the percussionist is required to sit and use his hands to drum. He immediately coveted it. His father, a pro tabla player himself, was left wondering why his son wanted to play a Western instrument. Nonetheless, father and son went to the Kadence Xperience Store on their old Chetak and carried back home the instrument that would slowly shake things up.
Sai Teja | (Pic: Sai Teja)
During the lockdown, the duo sat together to create script notations for the cajón and with the help of his father, the Hyderabadi converts these notations into exercises or lessons which he then shares with other enthusiasts. On January 10, Sai Teja took a free cajón workshop for beginners and another one for advanced learners and it was a wonderful in-person session at Jxtapose, the co-working space in Hyderabad. But don't go around calling him a teacher now, he doesn't see it that way. "I see this as knowledge sharing," he says humbly.
Now, this was about cajón in the life of Sai Teja. But in the context of Hyderabad's music scene, one ought to know that Sai Teja was one of the first cajón players. As the founding member of the band Capricio, he has had the chance to start the conversation about the cajón by simply playing it. "Since I am a tabla player too, I had a slight advantage in learning this instrument. When I play Indian beats on the cajón, people are fascinated. Five to six years back in Hyderabad, no one was playing it, but in my last workshop, about 40 aspirants turned up," says the musician who has a Diploma in Tabla from Ustad Shabbir Nisar.
The journey hasn't been easy. 'Wannabe drummer', 'dabba (box) player' — Sai Teja, who wasn't even considered a player, has been subjected to several taunts. But today, when he serenades a crowd of 5,000 while playing with the band sans a drum kit, all is water under the bridge. Here's a little trivia for you, Sai Teja has given over 1,500 performances, which include tabla performances with his father, solo ones and then, with the band and so on. Amazed yet?
It was in the year 2014 that Teja started playing the instrument
The workshops that Sai Teja takes flow smoothly, thanks to the musician's gregarious nature of building a rapport with participants before the session even begins. That's why you will find enthusiasts run up to him, play back a recorded version of Sai Teja's performance and eagerly ask, 'Anna, how did you play this part?'. And if you are serious enough, Sai Teja doesn't even mind lending you his instrument, no questions asked. "I give them tips and let them play how they want to. My intention is not to correct, it is only to make them better than they were," he says with a smile.
What's a cajón?
- Originated in Peru, it features in Afro-Peruvian music
- African slaves brought to Peru created the instrument first
- It has an earthy tone and is a perfect accompaniment to many instruments
- The wooden box allows for various striking zones, for example, playing close to the edge produces a higher-pitched sound
To find out more, check out instagram.com/tejandcajon