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Shlomo Interview: I have always loved spontaneity and improvisation

Read our interview with the hugely talented beatboxer as he sets off to go on tour across the country for his #HumanGeekbox tour.

Jimmy Coultas

Date published: 1st Oct 2013

When done properly, there’s few spectacles as jaw-dropping as the hip-hop inspired art of beatboxing. Creating a full vocal canon of noises via the mouth and larynx remains a tantalising show, and with popular culture referencing it everywhere from Police Academy’s Larvelle Jones to X-Factor contestants trying to impress Simon Cowell with their bassy timbre, a universally accepted means of performance.

Shlomo (watch his appearance on Later… with Jools Holland above) is one of the strongest UK based Beatboxers who has done much to expand the art form beyond its usual parameters. His latest tour, the Human Geekbox, sees him collaborating with a different artist each and every night and infusing his performance with a real life narrative based on his family (he explains below).

We’re selling tickets for the Southampton leg of the tour, so we decided to speak to him about his early forages into the art, his current hip-hop inspirations and the hopes he has for beatboxing enabling young people to get heard in more ways than one.

You’re about to go on tour. Could you explain to our readers what this will entail, and how it’s different from your previous ones?

It's a very theatrical show, so I'm mixing my beatboxing with a storyline from my own life. I was born into a line of certified geeks - my grandfather, Professor Kahn, was an astronomer and they named a planet after him, called Planet Kahnia. When I was a kid I thought I was going to go and live there.

So #HumanGeekbox kind of tells the story of four generations of space obsessed boys from my grandfather, my dad, me, then down to my own son, all mashed up with plenty of beatboxing, live looping and audience interaction.

The tour will see you work with a different collaborator each and every night. What made you want to do that and how daunting is it having to freestyle in this manner?

I love collaborating, and even though it's a solo tour I couldn't resist the idea of working with other artists. I'm using digital media to help find a different collaborator each time I do the show.

I’ve set myself a slightly ridiculous and totally terrifying challenge: to co-write, perform and release a new song in two hours with a different local artist in each town on the tour. After each show, the music will be released digitally in aid of War Child.

Is that a part of hip-hop culture you wanted to fall back on, the element of surprise and spontaneity? Are you a fan of freestyler rappers like Supernatural, even if there is a degree of repetition with what they might do?

I have always loved spontaneity and improvisation, I come from more of a jazz than a hip hop background where it’s a big focus of the music. Although I did tour with the hip hop outfit Foreign Beggars for five years!

Are you inspired by hip hop as a genre, and if so who are you feeling at present?

I love hip hop, as long as its subject matter is something meaningful. Check out I Am Legion (watch the video to 'Choosing for You' below)if you want to hear some new hip hop!

How did you get into beatboxing?                              

I grew up in a very musical family and got my first drumkit aged eight years old. All I wanted to do was play my drums on Top Of the Pops. Only problem was it was on at 7pm, and I wasn’t allowed to practise my drums after 6, so I instinctively started making noises with my mouth. I didn’t know it was called beatboxing until much later. 

Do you feel that part of your job is to get it more established as a means of making music?

Absolutely. I do a lot of work with young people and I just think beatboxing is such an accessible way for people, young and old, to express themselves. A lot of the young people I work with get ignored, or pushed to the side, or made to feel like they aren't good enough. The voice is universal as we all have one, so it's great to hear people making something their own.

Who of your beatbox peers would you recommend to our readers?

Reeps One, The Boxettes, Beardyman, Dub FX.

And finally, what else lies in the future for you beyond the tour?

At the same time as touring this show I’m composing the music for Bristol Old Vic’s Christmas production of The Little Mermaid which is going to be spectacular. I’m planning to get the whole cast vocalising and making music with their mouths whilst telling the story. Can’t wait for that!

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