Shlomo is one of the finest beatboxers the UK has to offer and now he wants you to sit and pay attention as he takes the fifth element of Hip Hop to another dimension.
I caught up with the humble man behind the voice during sound check at Nottingham’s Stealth to talk past, present, future and music through unconventional means.
Now one of the UK’s finest beatboxers, how did you first get into the oral delight?
It all began when I was a kid. I learnt to play the drums at like 8 years old.
I was always doing it, I didn’t know what it was, this sound, but like I was always playing out rhythms on my legs and stuff. Then I kinda released other people did it, so I was like ‘shit I already do that!’….
But my sounds where never realistic sounds just rhythms, so I then i was like ‘right I’m gonna learn to do things properly.’
So then I started doing shows, open mic nights and stuff. Moved out to Leeds, did loads of gigs. Did this gig and got picked up by the foreign beggars. With them I went all over toured the Europe, the states and Canada
And the rest is history. Did you come from a musical background?
Yeh. My dad’s a jazz guitarist so I used to play drums in his band. My parents have always been totally supportive.
What do you say to those that say that beat boxing is a gimmick, reserved for house parties and showing off?
Yeh! You get that a lot. People don’t think of it as a way of making music but rather a way of impressing people. For me when I first started doing beatbox shows I always thought of it as my party trick. Even then I was like this is my way of impressing people, ‘cos everyone thinks it’s impressive. Back then I never really connected it with the music that I had in my head, I just connected it with another thing I did. It wasn’t till I had been touring for a couple years that I did this track with Björk for the Athens Olympic Games.
It was Grammy nominated right?
Yeh, It was wicked! 4.5million people could have heard that track at that point. And when I went into the studio with her she just treated me like an artist. She treated me like a musician. I was amazed how musical she was treating beatboxing, So I was like ‘hold on a minute I’ve been making music all my life, it obviously is music it’s not just a way of showing off.’
I gotta ask man, is Bijork really a fruitcake?
No, everyone asks me this man. She’s not at all, It was really cool to meet her. I mean people always think she’s mad but she’s not at all she’s actually really shy. She was more intimidated by me then I was of her, and I was a kid back then like twenty….twentyone.
Working with the likes of Bijork and Natalie Williams to name a few, means working with different artists and their different personalities. Do you consider yourself a patient person?
Erm..well I’m pretty chilled out…. With music I think half of the key to success isn’t necessarily your talent It’s how you are. If you get on with people musically you will get on with them. And like, especially with the projects I’ve been doing recently were I’ve started bringing people together and trying to create like this unified thing, you gotta be able to handle everyone’s ego. You gotta make sure everyone feels happy and that’s probably the biggest challenge. Just to make sure everyone is happy.
You’ve now established yourself as a name with your own sound. Looking back at the long list of tours and your achievements with Foreign Beggars has it ever freaked you out the level of your success?
It does get a bit tripy sometimes if you see yourself in the paper or on TV. And like the funny ones is when you do the festival circuit in the summer, like the The Big Chill. You go on to 10,000 people packed into this field all fucking screaming your name and then your back at home and no ones screaming your name and you’re like ‘oh shit I gotta do the washing up’. I think it’s important to keep your feet on the ground, even when its all abit crazy and your pinching yourself to see if its real but you just got to remember you’re still a normal person – you just happen to be lucky.
Let’s talk about your latest project ‘The beatbox choir’. The choir consists of 5-time Grammy-winning vocal group the Swingle Singers alongside 5 of the UK's top human beatboxers. How did the idea of bringing these artists together come about?
Basically I was curetting this event at the Southbank centre (London) which was the World Beatbox convention. I had to program it in and find all the best international beatboxers and we needed to find a headline act who would be amazing for all the beatboxers coming, but would also appeal to the general public. Yeh so we were looking at like Rahzel and such but there wasn’t anyone who appealed equally to the beatbox community and also to your normal Joy block. So I was like how about we create something land do something like ‘The Beatbox Choir’….All the beatbox kids are gonna love it but you can also say to anyone who knows nothing about it that ‘Yeh its headlined by the ‘The Beatbox Choir’‘ and they are instantly interested. That’s why we decided to start it.
Your journey of bringing Shlomo and the vocal orchestra together was captured in the documentary ‘The Beatbox choir’ directed by Colette McWilliams. Where there any funny stories during the filming?
It was weird because I had some creative Vito, creative control over the film but to be honest it was so late in the day there wasn’t much I could do like half an hour before the screening. I was so nervous right up until that point because I hadn’t seen it. Forming the choir was a six week process where Colette and the cameras filmed throughout. I remember like after the 4th week a load of us went to do a gig in Oldham…It was a mini version of the vocal orchestra because half of us went... The documentary people came and filmed the whole thing… going up, the show, which went really well and the journey back.
The cameras kept rolling like seven or eight in the morning during a really long drinking session and we were talking such mind obnoxious shit, being complete dickheads. Afterwards I was like ‘oh my God’. That was a funny piece in the film.
I mean it needs to be trimmed down but we are in talks for a DVD deal and getting it on TV, maybe channel 4….that would be great!
What does the future hold for the choir and Shlomo?
Well I’m doing a 12 month artistic residency at the Southbank centre. They have asked us to do a vocal orchestra show in May 2008 as part of their choral festival so we’re doing a whole new show for that.
Then in April 2009 we’re gonna do this massive show at the royal festival hall. Basically we are gonna commission a concerto for a human beatbox and orchestra – like an original piece of classical music but with the beatbox choir. That’s gonna be like my big finisher to my time at the Southbank… It’s really exciting man, I can’t wait because I’m gonna co-write it with the composer.
Loads of composers came down for the film and they loved it
That sounds mad. From a beatboxer to a composer?
Yeh! That’s it, I mean it goes back to what I said at the beginning. You gotta treat beatboxing as music. And so many people don’t. For me I’ve always wanted to make music – the fact I beatbox is irrelevant. That’s just my way of getting it out there and my way of making sure it stands out from everyone else who makes music that matters.
You can see this with your success in foreign beggars. Beggars are always seeming to push the boundaries with their music.
Exactly, that’s probably why the first album, Asylum Seekers was so successful. It’s just good music. I’ve played it to my auntie who knows nothing about UK Hip-Hop, but she just liked it. It’s just really good music primarily. All the tags, the labels that go along with it are secondary to the fact its good music.
I caught a glimpse of Toni Rotten (Black Twang) and your boy Orifice at the premiere of the film down in London. What’s the support been like for your new ventures from the rest of the scene and the beggars?
Yeh man…They always support me. It’s a bit funny now cos I’ve kinda been doing less and less stuff with the beggars. To be honest they are the people who put me on the map in the first place.
Pavan (orifice) was the guy who originally had so much belief in me, he literally found me on the street and he was like ‘right give me your number, I’m starting this group and can u be in it?’ To give someone that much belief without knowing them is really special.
With so much on our plate, is this the start of the end for Shlomo and the Foreign Beggars?
I dunno if it’s the start, I’ve just got so much going on right now.
I’m still doing quite a lot of shows with them…Beggars have always toured heavily. I found that there was a certain Hip-Hop scene in the UK, that’s how I first grew into beatboxing, but after a while I realised that wasn’t the kind of music I was making.
I started to make music that I represent and my fan base seemed to be attracted to that… For me, playing on the Hip Hop circuit all the time is not conducive to moving stuff forward it’s like you’re stuck in the same circle. It is a real shame because I love those boys; they have done so much for me.
Do you still see a lot of them?
Of Corse man we are really good friends…they all came to my wedding in their traditional costumes. Metropolis was in gaunan outfit and you had Pavan and all his brothers dressed in Indian dress. People kept asking me ‘who are all those men in dresses?’ and I was like ‘They’re my hip-hop band come meet them.’
You use a loop station during most of your shows. It’s a novel idea amongst beatbox sets. Any plans for solo projects?
Not really. I do my solo set and its fun, but the most fun that I ever have is when I’m with the group – Beatbox choir.
Using a loop station on stage makes beatboxing bigger and more musical, but each time you put your layer in that’s it you can’t really fuck around with it. But that’s how we first experimented with the beatbox choir. We first made them into a human loop station. I gave each layer to a human and the most amazing thing about that is every single one of those people can take it off in a completely different direction. They’ve all got their own magic to put into it.
Cheers Shlomo, any last Words?
Watch this space.
Recently I’ve had like three to four massive commissions to bring together thousands of people.
It’s a tripy time right now.
You think you’ve seen anything, you havn’t seen anything…you’ve jus scratched the surface. It’s BIG!
Check: Shlomo presents ‘Music through unconventional means’, a series of concerts hosted by Shlomo at the Southbank centre London.