Beatbox and a capella artists at 2011 Edinburgh Festival debut
Shlomo, Beardyman Fork and Soweto Entsha cover many musical genres
This article is from 2011.
‘The dynamic of the voice fascinates me,’ says UK beatbox artist Shlomo. The London-based ‘World Loopstation’ champion, also known as Simon Khan, has collaborated with Jarvis Cocker and Björk, and his oral simulations of percussion, electro and orchestral instruments have bagged him admirers like Bill Bailey and KT Tunstall. ‘The voice is massively versatile,’ he suggests of his chosen musical medium.
Shlomo stars in an eclectic line-up of a cappella vocal artists who will holler, flaunt and undulate their verbal and non-verbal wares at the Festival – from ‘random-chair-raving’ (Beardyman) through ‘monkey-chanting’ (Voices) to ‘the new sound of Africa’ courtesy of ‘four boys with voices of gold’ (Soweto Entsha). The stylistic breadth of such performers affirms Shlomo’s claim that – far from being the contemporary preserve of hip hop – beat-boxing transcends and merges genres: folk and opera; world and electronica; jazz and pop and far beyond.
Shlomo’s global take on this adaptable art form evolved from his culturally diverse upbringing. ‘My grandmother was born in Iraq, and then she moved to Israel where my mum was born, and then they all moved to London when my mum was a kid – so my family would speak three different languages in the same sentence,’ he laughs.
‘I had absolutely no idea what they were saying when I was younger,’ he continues, ‘but I knew most of it was warmth, and love, and that was all that really mattered. I took a lot from the rhythm, and the tone, and the emotion behind it.’
A classically-trained percussionist, Shlomo’s oral beats and utterances were also borne out of necessity. ‘I got a drum kit when I was eight, because my parents were sick of me banging on pots and pans,’ he explains. ‘I wanted to play on Top of the Pops, but it wasn’t on until 7 o’clock, and I wasn’t allowed to practise my drums after 6, so I kind of invented this way of making the rhythms with my voice.
‘It was just my way of practising things,’ he reflects. ‘I didn’t really think anything of it, and it wasn’t until a lot later that I realised it had a name [beatboxing] and that it was something you could do to like – well, impress people,’ he smiles.
Shlomo makes his Festival debut with Mouthtronica. ‘It’s of a mixture of very loud music and very polite conversation – very English,’ he laughs – ‘and I take the audience on a journey through my story: about my background and how I started making music basically as a way to show off.’ He’ll come armed with his mouth, a mic and a loop pedal, and will collaborate with a different artist every night.
‘I think people are still taken aback by that when they come and see me,’ Shlomo offers. ‘They often expect something quite abrasive, and in your face. And although it’s very energetic and there are hard beats, there’s also Latin in there; Arabic; jazz …
‘You can’t fully understand it until you see it,’ he enthuses. ‘It’s a real live art form.’
Shlomo, Mouthtronica, Underbelly, Cowgate, until 27 Aug (not 15), 9pm, £10.50–£14 (£9.50–£12). Previews 4&5 Aug, £6.
Vocal Gymnasts - A Cappella Acts
Masters of daft sloganeering and goth-pop vocal acrobatics, we give you Helsinki’s Fork: ‘Fork does to a cappella what Jimi Hendrix did to guitar music and what Viagra does to a man!’ they pledge. They also speak of ‘champagne showers’, ‘pyrotechnics’ and ‘Bon Jovi’. We are there.
Pink Noise by FORK, Assembly George Square, George Square, 0131 623 3030, 3–28 Aug (not 10, 17), 6.05pm, £14–£15 (££11–£12). Previews 3–5 Aug, £5.
Drawing on Indian, European and African oral traditions, Voices promises an explosive array of Balinese monkey-chanting, Congolese mouth-clicking, Tuvan throat singing, gospel and hip-hop. An expressive theatrical work, conceived by award-winning composer and vocalist Philip Hamilton, it has been compared to aural brouhahas like Stomp and Def Poetry Jam.
New Town Theatre, Edinburgh, 0131 226 0000, 4-28 Aug, 2.15pm, £13 (£5).
Guided only by the mayhem conjured by his fantastical larynx, UK beatboxing champion Beardyman returns to the Festival by popular demand. Expect an incendiary brawl of music, surprises, confessionals, laughs and hyper-verbal calisthenics – replete with live-fed online visuals courtesy of Mr Hopkinson.
Beardyman Unshaved, Assembly Hall, Mound, 0131 623 3030, 23–24 Aug, 23.59, £15.
Fusing spirited harmonies, enriching rhythms, uplifting music and glittering dance moves, Soweto Entsha stars ‘four boys with voices of gold’ who blaze a trail through contemporary African a cappella. ‘You’ll be dazzled by the talent, moved by the magic, and end up dancing in the aisles,’ they say.
Soweto Entsha, Underbelly’s Pasture, Bristo Square, 0844 545 8252, 3-28 Aug, 4.30pm, £11-£14.50 (£9.50-£13). Previews 3-5 Aug, £7.
Despite a line in feline punning that could render one quite psychopathic – such as ‘a cappella with cattitude’, and ‘Cat Touch This’, for the love of god – these St Andrews-based Last Choir Standing stars chorally garland the likes of Wham, Amy Winehouse and The Killers. What, no Metallicat though? (Sorry).
The Alleycats, C, Chambers Street, 0845 260 1234, 14-29 Aug (not 22), 4.45pm, £9.50-£11.50 (£6.50-£9.50).