From DRUM! Magazine’s January 2018 Issue | Text And Music By Andy Ziker

Mona Tavakoli has all of the chops, speed, dynamics, and rhythmic accuracy that you could ever want in a cajon player. She’s a passionate musician able to deliver an emotional charge to the audience. Combined with that fact that she’s a top-notch vocalist, it’s easy to see why Jason Mraz chose her as his percussionist. Tavakoli chose the following three YouTube clips for the purpose of this Groove Analysis.

“Browntown” (Ironstone Amphitheater)

Here, Tavakoli takes part in a fun musical dialogue with Becky Gebhardt (sitar). “We wanted to write a piece that had a lot of dynamics and potential for a tempo shift. These changes depend on whoever takes the reigns.” The song features intricate groove playing, the “cricket” (her right foot bends the pitch of the front head), and the use of cymbals with bass tone to add a dash of spice.

“You Did It” (Ellen DeGeneres – Mark Twain Award – With Jason Mraz)


Tavakoli lays down mostly continuous quarter-notes (bass sounds) throughout the tune. “I purposefully play a simple part to make sure to hold space for the rhythmic vocal parts,” she says. The polyrhythmic fill in measure seven (below) breaks up the pulse and creates tension before a stop sends us into the chorus.

“Shine” (Jason Mraz – Citibank Hall, Rio – 2015)

Tavakoli creates a sixteenth-note flow with ghosted notes that fall between bass and slap sounds. She uses her left feet (tambourine and ghungroos) to add a high frequency hi-hat-like sound in the 7/8 section. Tavakoli recalls, “We wrote this song on the cajon. Once we got to the studio to record it, we experimented with using the kit instead, but we kept going back to the earthy tones of the backside of my cajon — the non-stringed side.”

Video: Mona Tavakoli Cajon Lesson