Beat boxing a dying art

When one thinks of the 80s and 90s, you think of sweatsuits worn with gold chains, boom boxes, gold grills and mind-blowing beat boxers.
Anyone who had an affinity for hip hop or rap music tried at one point or other to master the vocal percussion art of beat boxing. However, only a few managed it.
Charismatic artists like the Fat Boys and Vanilla Ice further helped in popularising the art, and it was not too long until Namibians jumped onto that bandwagon.
Perhaps the most recognizable face when it came to beat boxing in Namibia is that of T.C from the Kalaharians.
He had the ability of churning out the most awe-inspiring sounds which would have people thinking that he was actually using a computer program of sorts to produce the sound.
Beat boxing, which is considered a sport to some, presents difficulty because the vocal percussionist has to become a human orchestra, producing various sounds like drums, turntable effects, electronic effects, trumpets and electric guitars, to name a few. All these sounds have to be produced simultaneously to create a truly awe-inspiring sound.
Although many locals seem to have forgotten about beat boxing in recent years, the Beatbox Team World Champions, Under Kontrol, helped take some of them down memory lane when they performed in Namibia last year, courtesy of the Franco-Namibia Cultural Centre (FNCC).
“I started beat boxing because I had started rapping. It came in handy during freestyle performances, serving as a beat to performance, either for myself or for other rappers,” Dewi Mukumbo, a young rapper and one of the few beat boxers around, said.
He started beat boxing in 2002 at age 12. However, he feels his skills’ levels are only at 50% right now.
“Beat boxing is important because it is the basis of rhythm for hip hop. It enables you to be more creative, open and free,” he said, adding that this was so because it’s not confined to computer programs.
Since he started rapping locally, Mukumbo said he had only met one other beat boxer, who has since left the country.
“Most musicians place a heavy focus on producers. Beat boxing is raw and takes you back to the basics, the grassroots. Many are trying to be commercial artists, and beat boxing takes them away from that,” he noted.
Explaining how he started beat boxing, T.C said he first had a feel for music, and it later progressed to beat boxing after he watched Police Academy, where one of the actors would make various interesting sounds with his mouth.
Groups like the Fat Boys also inspired him.
“I started beat boxing in Grade 9. There are certain things which are just inside you which you are good at and might take a while to get out, but it will eventually happen. For me, that was beat boxing, it comes naturally to me,” the famous artist noted.
Like Mukumbo, he too met only one great beat boxer, a 13-year-old boy. However, it was only after he had died that he found out that the boy was a beat boxer when his father showed him footage of him beat boxing.
“I don’t know why there is no interest in the art in Namibia. Perhaps people lack the confidence to do it. I’m encouraging people to beat box because it is something unique,” T.C. urged.
Before studios became popular, T.C said he and his friends would stand on street corners and freestyle to beat boxing.
However, things have now changed and people rely heavily on music producers to create sounds for them. Still, the importance of the art cannot be diminished.
“When producers think of a beat before they hit the studio, they need to be able to replicate it vocally. Beat boxing carries hip hop; it is the corner stone of the music genre.
It is not only entertaining, but sets you apart from the rest,” he stated, adding that through beat boxing, he received a lot of attention which helped put him on the map.
Although its popularity has diminished locally, the art is still popular in South Africa and around the world.
T.C feels that perhaps if commercial value is placed on beat boxing by various organisations, locally it would gain popularity again in Namibia.