Beatboxing makes a return

Like underground cousins breakdancing and graffiti, Beatboxing is back. Chris Mugan meets the genre's new generation of artists

London's Queen Elizabeth Hall plays host to an array of talent, from orchestras through folk outfits to cutting-edge electronica. And now it has found space for a musical form that further stretches its boundaries - beatboxing.

This is the skill that involves replicating drums, bass-lines and turntable scratching using just a set of vocal chords. Along with graffiti and breakdancing, it has been an integral part of hip-hop since its early days, when beatboxers provided a foundation for rappers' rhymes in off-the-cuff freestyle battles.

But with hip-hop now largely synonymous with SUVs, jewellery and movie vehicles, beatboxing disappeared into the background.

However, in recent years the vocal style has undergone a renaissance. Just as graffiti artists now show in galleries and breakdancers perform at Sadler's Wells, "boxing" is set to make its debut at one of London's most prestigious venues. Rather than be repackaged as an art form for mainstream consumption, this is a movement that has emerged from the underground. Even better, it's a UK-led phenomenon.

One of the world's most high profile boxers, Killa Kela, is set to release an album on Sony later this year, preceded by the single "Secrets" next month. Kela stands out among the new generation of boxers. He combines singing with vocal percussion, and performs in genres beyond hip hop, notably R&B and drum and bass. He dubs his innovative style "multivocalism".

"I had to shake off the stigma of beatboxing as a gimmick and sound effect, I wanted it to be treated musically," he said. "So I made it a Killa Kela live show rather than a one-off segment." Kela made his reputation outside boxing circles with help from backing group-cum-collective Spit Kingdom. His gigs are kaleidoscopic affairs where he performs with a singer, an MC, a funk group and even a string quartet.

"I had interest from labels early on, but they were into the gimmick. So I set up my own team that fuelled itself," he said. He has since made an impact in the US - The Roots appear on his album, and he has a celebrity fan in stellar producer and solo star Pharrell Williams. Kela supported Williams's band NERD on tour in the UK and US, ever since he ambushed the American star at a soundcheck.

"I hid behind the stage at the [London] Astoria for five hours until he came. Then I just jumped out and did my thing on the mike. It's gone on from there, really. But in the States, no one has seen anyone like me, because I've got a European flavour, I'm a bit Bjork-y, a bit different."

Kela's challenge now is how to transfer his vibrant live performances to disc. "There's still a long way to go. It's difficult to put across on record what you're trying to do and adapt to other kinds of music."

Kela is keen to distance himself from boxing's "freakshow" image. But in concentrating more on his singing voice, he could lose what makes him distinctive.

Kela is not alone. The new wave of boxers includes Shlomo, founder of beatbox agency All From The Mouth, who has worked on Bjork's all-vocal Mellulah album and also appeared on Later With Jools Holland.

Another boxer is Rahzel, who also raps in The Roots, a US outfit that has done more than anyone to keep alive the idea of live hip hop.

"Rahzel was really important because he combined vocals and beats," Shlomo said. "Until then, boxing was in the background, behind the rappers, but Rahzel brought it to the front of the stage."

Now, though, he complains Rahzel has been doing the same thing for 10 years, and says it's time for a new generation to take boxing in a different generation.

"With Rahzel, boxing is still a freak show, a way to make people's jaws drop. That's an achievement in itself, but it's not enough. We want to do something more musical."

So Shlomo has gone back behind the drums. For his solo show, he aims to lay down a beat with sticks, then use his mouth to provide bass-lines, strings and percussion. "I want to go from making party tracks to making music."

One of the boxers Shlomo recruited for the Queen Elizabeth Hall line-up is precocious teenager Faith SFX, winner of last year's inaugural UK Beatbox Championships. He believes there is still life in the vocal/beats mix.

Hailing from north west London, Faith was again inspired by Rahzel - and people closer to home. "Two of my uncles were into beatboxing, but I only took it seriously when I went on the internet and found out about the people that created it. Now I recreate whole songs live, which no one has really done before. If you listen to other boxers' albums, they use instruments."

Faith's first record is to be called All Mouth. He has also performed with jazz saxophonist Denys Baptiste and stole the show at the BBC Philharmonic's grime project "Urban Classics", with his version of soulster Ginuwine's seduction song "Pony".

Hip-hop has been an important influence on this generation of performers. But while the top end of the hip-hop scene is dominated by stars more interesting for their spending habits than music, underground styles like beatboxing continue to push the music forward.

'Beyond Beatboxing', QEH, London SE1 (0870 405 6666), 19 March

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London