The cabasa originated in Africa and was initially constructed of dried over pear-shaped gourds with beads strung around the outer surface. The inspiration for this instrument was the Shekere, another African instrument which was created from hollowed-out gourds over which beads were strung in a net. When shaken, the sounds are very similar to the cabasa.
The modern day cabasa is constructed with a ridged stainless steel shell surrounded by loops of steel-bead chains. Wooden flanges enclose the steel cylinder with a handle, typically wooden, attached to the bottom. The cabasa produces rhythmic shaking and rattling sounds and is often used in Latin jazz, especially in bossa nova music. It is also widely used in music therapy, particularly by patients who have physical or neurological disabilities as it requires minimal hand movement to produce the desired sounds. The sound produced by the individual can then be reinforced by the music therapist, which builds neurological connections between hand movement and hearing sounds, in turn encouraging more fluent hand movements.
The cabasa is also an excellent instrument for young children to learn music with. Similar to the claves, a beginner can quickly create a variety of rhythmic effects without much technique or prior experience. Children will enjoy creating solid rhythmic patterns simply by placing their hand on the beaded chain applying pressure while holding the wooden handle with the other hand and twisting the instrument back and forth.