The History of Beatboxing
Beatboxing is The Art of Urban Vocal Percussion. i.e. immitating drum sounds and beat patterns using your lips, tongue, mouth, throat, and voice. It's summed up with the image the guy in the hoodie with his hands cupped over his mouth spitting and making wonderful noises. Introduction It is usually documented that beatboxing, as we know it, has its roots in the beginning of modern hiphop, on street corners in placed like Chicago, the Bronx, and LA, and this is quite right. However, vocal percussion the art form from which beatboxing spawns has been part of the music and urban scene for a lot longer than people think. As part of the new school of beatboxing and hiphop that is, from around 1998 to today it is extremely important this new school knows its history, and the way in which this glorious sub culture came about. It first requires a trip back in time, more than 7 decades back, to the era of swing, jazz and barbershop music. It has been well recorded that jazz musicians where the first group of artists who used their voices, and indeed, their whole vocal chords to imitate instruments. When bebop arrived in the 30’s, as a reaction to large swing groups and their lack of improvisation, it was becoming the norm to hear jazz and blues singers wail, moan or grunt noises unidentifiable to the human ear as words. 'Scatting' was used as jazz singers improvised harmonic and vocal scales over solos or instrumentals. This was the first mainstream look at what would become vocal percussion, and later beatboxing. Singers would sing made up words such as 'doot', 'wawp', 'bapadoo' and many others, effectively imitating the sounds of the two most common instruments in their music, saxophones and trumpets. However, the roots of imitating instruments with the human voice goes a few years earlier. Travelling right back, we uncover the troubadours (poetmusicians) of Southern France the 1200 and 1300s. These were travelling French ministrels who would roam the streets singing either unaccompanied or with only the accomaniment of a lute, the precursor to the modern acoustic guitar. Their music seemed to try and be different and featured courtly lyrics or religious themes. By the late 1400 and 1500s, groups would sing together, much like barbershop, harmonising to one single voice. To give their music depth, they would interchange short sharp notes, call and responsive in the melodies, making it sound like a whole band was playing with them. These French gypsies, were in fact the earliest recorded signs of vocal percussion in history. In the late 1880s, black groups (usually quartets) would sing a capella, that is, using only their harmonized voices to make music. They would hold long, low notes that resemble what we hear as bass sounds in modern beatboxing. Vocal percussion was used by these quartets to help their music keep time, such as clicks of the tongue and taking a sharp breath in. Yes, more then a hundred years before Kenny Muhummed, black barbershop singers mastered the inward snare. Even though vocal percussion was only the background to this style of music, it no doubt set the stage for the oncoming craze of scatting and bass humming in the wave of jazz, blues, and swing music that was just a few years away. Today, beatboxing and vocal percussion is as alive as ever. One only needs to lend an ear to the Australian charts to hear Joel Turner using beatboxing as the drums to an entire album. Joel has since claimed national glory, and multimillion dollar record deal and mainstream exposure. The formation of such groups as the Beatbox Alliance, who have major corporate backing, makes us realise beatboxing is now a card carrying member of the hiphop community. In 2000, Rahzel made beatboxing famous in the mainstream by covering the now deceased Alliyah’s song 'If Your Mother Only Knew'. Rahzel has since been credited as the first person to conquer the art of simultaneously singing and beatboxing at the same time, a feat that has become a staple of the beatbox community. I will be posting more about the history of beatboxing in two more parts if this article is a hot topic.