Ah, Shlomo, a Foreign Beggar, jaw-droppingly dexterous one man vocal orchestra, and nicest of nice guys. His positive outlook on life and obvious talent make him extremely easy to talk to and we were lucky enough to grab fifteen minutes alone with the man before his talk at CDR x Roundhouse production workshops. Read on for discussion ranging from morning-time listening habits to Top of the Pops and composing for video games.
CDR: Lets start from the beginning. What sort of music do you listen to when you get up in the morning?
The first thing I do after I wake up is take my son to pre-school and he has a massively varying taste in music. He’s only three and at the moment he’s obsessed with the song Trumpets by Jason Derulo, do you know it?
CDR: No, I’ve not heard it
It’s really inappropriate for a three-year-old. He also likes Dubstep. He calls it pirate music. So most mornings I listen to whatever he wants to listen to, whether that be Trumpets or Sea Shanty’s (laughs).
CDR: What would you listen to if you had the choice?
Normally I just listen to the radio so whatever is on Radio One.
CDR: What was the first track you remember hearing that convinced you music was the path for you?
Ohh man… I’ve been obsessed music since I was a kid but I think Michael Jackson probably, Moon Walker on VHS. There was this 12-minute sequence of Smooth Criminal that I would just watch and rewind, watch and rewind.
CDR: What a track! It’s always interesting to hear about the first tune that made people move towards music. Another thing I wanted to ask was about Beatboxing. It a bit of a different path to take, most people would choose an instrument or maybe even start producing. How did that start and what was the point where you began to take it seriously?
Originally I was a drummer. My grandfather who was an old Arabic, Middle Eastern guy used to play the djembe when I was young – this is way before I could speak, apparently I used to just sit there transfixed by the rhythm. Then as I got older I was always banging on pots, pans and anything else I could get my hands on, so my parents caved in and decided to buy me a kit.
The only problem with buying me drums is they wouldn’t let me play them because my neighbours complained. This meant I wasn’t able to practice after 6pm.
At the same time there was this show on BBC called Top of The Pops, which was on at 7pm. So I used to watch that and think:
“If I’m going to be on Top Of The Pops, I need to practice, but I can’t because the neighbours”
So I just started practicing with my mouth. I remember really clearly trying to learn the rhythm and having to use my voice because there was no way of playing drums.
CDR: That’s quite a creative way to go about solving your neighbour problem. At what point did you start taking it seriously?
I started taking it seriously in my late teens, back then there weren’t many people doing it professionally. There was one guy however called Killa Kella who was doing an album launch and he heard me beatboxing out the front of the club with my friends. He ended up calling me up on stage, I was terrified but my friends just started chanting my name so I went up on stage. I’d never played with a mic before and Killa Kella’s was eq’d to perfection and everyone just went crazy. I remember thinking after that
“Yeah I’ve got to do this now, this is my calling”
CDR: Wow sounds like an amazing experience, how did you start touring with the Foreign Beggars?
I went to a Jungle rave in Leeds and there were all these amazing MCs like Shabba and Skibbade, but there was this one guy other guy who nobody had heard and he was showing up the old guys a bit.
At about five or six in the morning and they turned on the lights, closed the club and threw everyone on the street. I was still vibing from the night so I just stood on the street and started beatboxing really fast and loud.
At one point I opened my eyes and there was a circle of people standing around me, and they all started joining in and rapping over the top of me. At one point all the MCs came out the door and just walked past us – apart from the guy which nobody knew who started rapping too. After a bit he said:
“That’s really good but can you do anything slower, can you do hip hop?”
So I started doing some hip-hop and then after a bit he said:
“Dude you’re sick! I need your number, I’m in a band called Foreign Beggars we’re doing our first show in two weeks, we need you to be in the band”
At the time I was only really young about 18, and they ended up taking me on tour for about five years. I learnt so much from them about stagecraft and performance. Back then I had technique, but I didn’t have any presence – that’s probably what I learnt most from them… showmanship and how to make a crowd go crazy!
CDR: Keeping on the whole performance aspect of it, what’s in your current live set up?
You’ve actually caught me at a developmental phase. I seem to do these big changes to my set up at the start of the year because January is a quiet time for touring.
Last year I added the new RC505 Loop Station, which has five phrases on it and this year I’m adding Ableton. I did use it a lot last year but didn’t quite have it ready in time for my shows, so that’s now getting added in now with Push.
To be honest I actually only added Push a couple of days ago – it’s the first time I’ve added something that isn’t vocal based.
CDR: So you’re adding synths and that sort of thing to your performance?
Yeah, I’ve just been jamming and seeing what happens the last couple of days, it’s really fun.
I’ve also got a couple of other things like the Lemur on the Iphone, which controls Ableton Effects and I’ve also added this little guy, the Leap Motion. This enables me to control Ableton with hand gestures.
CDR: So it’s kind of like a Theremin?
Kind of have you seen it?
CDR: No, I haven’t
You have 20 different hand actions you can do, and these actions send midi information back to your computer, which then controls effects on Ableton. It’s really cleaver because it knows what hand gestures your doing and it enables you to do sweeping effects.
CDR: You’ve been doing a theatrical performance of late, how does that differ from one of your regular shows.
Beatboxing at its heart is live performance; you really have to be there to get it. Yeah you can watch a video on Youtube but you don’t really get it, so that’s where I see the similarity.
I’ve been doing Theatre shows for awhile now, I’ve performed three one hour solo shows that I’ve devised, I’ve also directed shows and composed for shows so I’m getting further and further down that road.
I remember the first time I went to Edinburgh Fringe I thought that I’d found my calling because people were there for a performance and they weren’t discriminant about what kind of performance – they just sat there and you could really communicate and engage with them.
Lately however I’ve been getting to do more and more music shows, which has been great! Theatre is really lovely, but there is a certain rigidity to it, which is great when you’ve got something to say, but there’s definitely something to be said about the different kind of connection you get with music. For instance I’m not necessarily there to say something meaningful I’m just there to make people move.
CDR: I guess you don’t get the same sort of feedback with a theatre show?
No, no you don’t. I mean you can make them laugh, you can make them cheer or cry (depending on how good or bad you are). But when you’re in a club and they’re dancing it’s a party and you’re with them. Theatre isn’t a party, although I think I’ve made my shows more like a party than most performers.
CDR: A rave play?
Yeah in a sense, that story I told before about meeting Orifice Vulgartron (Foreign Beggars) is in my show, and I try capture that moment of being in the club and I get people up and get them to rave. But at the end of the day it’s just really nice to play in a club. So I’m really looking to the Festival circuit this summer and doing more club shows.
CDR: Do you have a preference towards club shows or festivals?
Everything’s different, you’ve got to keep your life varied or you get stuck in a rut. I do shows for kids, club shows, theatres; I also compose a lot – I’m currently doing two pieces of music for two entirely different productions. I just really enjoy being eclectic and having lots of different things to do.
CDR: I remember seeing that you were involved in a video game, what was that like?
Yeah Chime, that was amazing! It was started by Orbital I think. It’s a puzzle game where as you do things the right way you progress the music advances and gets faster and faster. I was really fascinated by this idea of an interactive piece of music, whereby you had to be achieving something to hear the next stage of the music. Because of this we had to create music that was moving, pulsing and looping but it also had progression through it. It was really fun! I’m shit at games so I was rubbish at it but there are videos of people playing it online and it’s just amazing.
CDR: How did you get involved?
An old friend of mine who used to rap with me is a games designer now and it was his game so he gave me a shout.
CDR: And finally outside of music where do you gain your inspiration?
I think it’s just like trying to have a positive outlook on life. I’m a dad and a husband, I’ve got an awesome family and awesome friends and I think it’s important to come away from music and just be happy and appreciate what you’ve got.
I guess I also exercise and do all those things that stop you from feeling shit about yourself. I think that all those things help you feel refreshed and positive when you come back to music.