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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test