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Q&A: Shlomo

The beatboxing superstar on switching from playing the drums, his inspirations and his collaborations

Neha Sharma Oct 10, 2010
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Last month, UK based beat-boxing sensation Simon Shlomo Kahn aka Shlomo toured India ”“ performing at the Hard Rock Cafes in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru – for the very first time. While Shlomo has collaborated with the likes of Damon Albarn, Martha Wainwright and Nitin Sawhney in the past, his work with Bjork on ”˜Oceania’ ”“ her performance of the same at the 2004 Olympics was nominated for a Grammy Award ”“ has been one of his greatest collaborations so far. The solo beatboxer who also performs with his beatboxing choir, the Vocal Orchestra, has performed at festivals like the Glastonbury and Big Chill. In India, he thrilled audiences with his solo set and live musical interactions with artists like Raies Khan (the Darohar Project), Sid Coutto (Tough on Tobacco), Vivek Rajagopalan, Swarathma, and Suhail Yusuf Khan and Ujjwal Nagar (Advaita). We caught up with the talented young musician right before his performance at HRC Delhi.

I believe you started off as a percussionist playing the drums, what inspired you to switch to beatboxing?

I was always making the noises while practising my drums [but] I didn’t know then that what I was doing was called beatboxing. I got my drum kit when I was eight years old so we’re talking about twenty years ago; I didn’t know what beatboxing was back then. There was this one guy on the tele called Michael Winslow from the Police Academy series who made these amazing sounds with his voice and I remember thinking to myself, ”˜Now that’s really cool.’ And then in my teens, someone played me a beatboxer’s tape and I was like ”˜Wow, I want to do that.’

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Any exciting projects you are working on today?

There are a whole lot of different projects that I’m getting into. I’m working on a new solo show which is called Mouthtronica, which is a very theatrical experience. It kind of delves into the back story of how I became who I am. It’s more to do with my identity because people are always asking me questions about how I found out I could do this – as if some day I just kind of sneezed and became this superstar beatboxer [laughs]. I am working in all these different fields so it’s kind of hard to summarise but one thing I am really excited about doing next year is a very special piece which involves a 3D surround experience where you have sound being manipulated by software. So you have beatboxers all around the room and the sound works like a 3D mapping device. Then there is a theatre show I am working on with the Vocal Orchestra which is called Boxed which is like beatboxing adventure. My main goal is to bring beatboxing to a wider audience, so while people can find out about it they can also be challenged by it, they can learn from it and then pass that onto the younger generations so that they mould their own style.

Which artists inspire you as a beatboxer/musician?

The beatboxers who first inspired me were the greats like Rahzel and Kenny Muhammed – who is the king of beatboxing – but for me it’s always been more about music than about beatboxing. So my real heroes are people like Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Keith Jarrett and the jazz pianists. It’s more like listening to music and letting that come back out in my expression.

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You do some fun beatbox renditions of songs like ”˜Seven Nation Army’ [White Stripes] and ”˜I Want You Back’ [Michael Jackson]. Tell me about some songs you love beatboxing to.

One of my favourite songs of all time is Prodigy’s ”˜Out of Space.’ I do it solo but with the Vocal Orchestra I kind of scored the whole song for eight voices and it’s amazing to hear that with the electronic sound done by the voices. I really love doing covers so there is one part in our vocal orchestra Boxed where we build this time machine out of our bodies and we go back in time through all these different decades and that’s a really fun way to dig out some old tunes and give them a beatbox version. For instance we go back to the Sixties and do stuff like ”˜Son of a Preacher Man’ and ”˜Respect.’

What’s on the cards next? Any interesting collaborations?

I’ll be touring for my solo piece in the UK. Then I’m doing my group piece and I want to tour with them around the world. I am writing a book on beatboxing as well. The book is like a first course in studying beatboxing. As for collaborations, I have been doing some work with Imogen Heap. I’ve been touring various festivals in the UK with her and now she is writing a new piece; it’s a soundtrack for a film and she is premiering it at the Royal Albert Hall.

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