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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent