‘Want to learn how to beatbox? Say Boots and Cats over and over again You’re welcome.
‘Beatbox is an instrument to create music Not a machine to make noise’ – Jon Park
What’s beatboxing? Simple. Have you seen the movie franchise ‘Pitch Perfect’? Well, the focus of the whole movie is a group of girls who come together to make music; the girls are an A cappella group. Okay, no, have you ever heard of Pentatonix?
The group that has gained world recognition for its musical technique and ability in the field of Acapella and has taken a Grammy for it?
Alright, chill, no need to be alarmed. Allow me to start again. A cappella music is a specific kind of group or solo singing without instrumental accompaniment, or a piece intended to be performed in this way.
What it means is that you usually see a group of people on stage with microphones not just singing but singing in such a way that it seems as though they are mimicking instruments, if they do it well enough, you can’t tell the difference.
Now A cappella happened to be a certain way until innovations were introduced into it as a genre of music and with that came the art of beatboxing into its own. The truth is, it wasn’t the most glorified part in the mix of a cappella group, but that seems to have changed in recent times.
Now beatboxing has its world competition and even beatboxing loop station battles, where instead of just letting the people do their best pieces with the mic, they possess a loop machine that helps them create pieces on the level of dubstep and actual music.
The fact that loop machines were created to better help the experience and give beatboxers the ability to push beyond the limitations of breath control and all that to put a piece of music together with the fundamentals being the insane skills they have garnered over time.
The musical form of vocal percussion or ‘beatboxing’ as it is popularly known as is traced to the 19th century and even though it is present in so many American musical genres, one of the very integral influences of it comes from a form of the African traditional music where they use their bodies to produce various sounds for example:
by clapping or hitting their chests or even stomping accompanied by producing sounds with their mouths by breathing loudly in and out;
which is interestingly a technique being utilized by beatboxers. Vocal percussion as an instrument has been utilized by most of the world greats in the field of music;
Paul McCartney’s ‘That Would Be Something’ in 1969 includes vocal percussion. Pink Floyd’s ‘Pow R. Toc H. in 1967 also includes vocal percussion performed by the group’s lead vocalist, Syd Barrett.
Jazz singers Bobby McFerrin and Al Jarreau were very well known for their vocal styles and techniques, which have had a great impact on techniques beatboxers use today. Our own ‘fante’ brother, the pop King himself, Michael Jackson was known to record himself beatboxing on a dictation tape recorder as a demo and scratch recording to compose several of his songs, including ‘Billie Jean’, ‘The Girl Is Mine’, and others.
The reason why the term beatboxing was eventually coined for it was that the beatboxer mimicked early drum machines which were then known as beatboxes particularly the Roland TR-808 (check out the article Saturday Morning Car Tunes to get acquainted with the history of music and production).
Human beatboxing in hip-hop originated in the 1980s. Its early pioneers include Doug E. Fresh, the self-proclaimed first ‘human beatbox’. Swifty, the first to implement the inhale sound technique; Buffy, who helped perfect many beatboxing techniques; and Wise, who contributed significantly to beat boxing’s proliferation.
Beatboxing becoming known amongst the general populace of the world has the internet to thank for that. How many people remember that video with a dad and his daughter who were battling themselves and eventually his daughter ripped him to shreds?
There’s so much more of that nowadays on the internet from people like KRFX who has his own YouTube channel where he has videos of him doing pieces he has put together on his own.
Online communities were created back in the day and then after that people started creating tutorials on YouTube for others to start watching and learning how to go about the art.
In 2003, the HUMANBEATBOX.COM community held the world’s first Human Beatbox Convention in London featuring beatbox artists from all over the world. Here in Ghana, there have been many A cappella musical groups ranging from the famous Alabaster box, KNUST’s the Kings and recently, the Pipers, and these groups have rocked stages with both traditional and contemporary renditions of a cappella all over the country.
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Beatboxing has come a long way since its inception to be very honest. From just being a very cool thing that rappers used to freestyle on as an improvised instrumental which is seen in shows like Drop the Mic and scenes from movies like ‘8-Mile’ starring Hip Hop legend Eminem, to becoming a global competition, the journey has been rough and smooth but finally, we’re here. Long live the mic, long live the beatbox; the ones who fight with sounds from their mouths!