Happy Wednesday Tonemilers! Today we want to tell you about last week, when your Tonemamas sat down in front of a computer to meet up with Arabelle – the Jersey-girl with a big interest in musical theater who somehow ended up becoming a working, living, breathing beatboxer!
We are sitting with upright postures like two students ready to absorb everything and to get a peak into a community we know little about. How does one get into beatboxing? At what point in her life did she choose this as her instrument? We ask the artist to set the scene and explain how she went from Arabelle to AirLoom Beats.
“I had no idea I was gonna become a beatboxer. In highschool I loved to sing and I loved the theater so I spent my time participating in plays and chorus. When I graduated I decided to go to college for liberal arts instead of the conservatory, I wanted to keep my choices open. I knew that at Rutgers University’s liberal arts program I could participate in plays and do all the things I love simultaneously.”
She goes on to tell us that it was actually in the acapella scene that her life took a turn and she discovered beatboxing. She explains she auditioned for four of the acapella groups on campus. She was hoping to get into the mixed gender groups, but had only been accepted by an all-female group called Shockwave. She describes this as a serious blessing:
“You know how things happen in your life and they don’t happen the way you want them to? Well in that moment I really wanted to be in the superstar groups, they had the best arrangements and it sounded so great! But they already had really strong male beatboxers, so had I gotten in there I would’ve never started beatboxing! In the female acapella group there was a need for a beatboxer.”
Destiny is a sneaky bitch isn’t she Tonemillers? AirLoom goes on to tell us that as a singer in the acapella groups she had projected too loudly (she is a theater gal after all) and eventually the musical director at the time (Asami) had suggested she could be the beatboxer. (Don’t we just love the Asami’s in life?)
“ I tried it, and ever since that moment, I was hooked.”
She says that this particular acapella group was making an effort to play edgy music, they wanted to push themselves to do something that wasn’t traditionally girly.
“And by the way beatboxing is not ‘girly’ at all, there’s a lot of mouth sounds that are not ladylike,” AirLoom laughs. “A lot of saliva going around….But that’s the fun part of beatboxing! You can be super silly, you can create whatever flow that just manifests and just wants to appear in whatever moment you’re existing in, it’s freedom!”
A little surprised and moved by this sudden change of depth we start to understand that beatboxing to AirLoom means a lot more than just some cool, impressive fast mouth-sounds (not that that’s how we saw beatboxing before this interview…)
“Had I gone to the conservatory I would’ve never known there was a thing like beatboxing and that I was REALLY GOOD AT IT!!!” she says super excited.
But hold on a minute, how did she actually learn to beatbox? In addition to listening to a lot of drums and trying to emulate the sounds she also got expert education:
“When I got assigned the part I got a literal ten minute lesson with the senior beatboxer, here I’ll give it to you.” So yes ‘millers, your Tonemama’s have had their first beatboxing lesson and we can proudly recite that the three basic sounds are all contained in the sentence “BooTs and Cats”. She continues: “From here it is wherever you take it, it’s the most beautiful thing about beatboxing. What represents me culturally is different from you! When you hear a beatboxer from Bulgaria she’s gonna sound much different than the beatboxer that’s from India or Japan”
“A lot of beautiful relationships happen within this global community, and within the national community because it starts on a local level and I’m really fortunate to be here in New! York! City! Which is not only the birthplace of beatboxing as we know it! It’s also the birthplace of hip-hop (!!!) and I get to be here and I get to participate in the beatboxing culture that exists here in NYC but also the larger hip hop community that lives here which is a growing thriving community that came from the Bronx and Harlem – in fact happy birthday to hip-hop that was August 11th!”
What do you mean hip-hop has a birthday? How is a genre born? (Except cool jazz of course, we all know the birth of the cool.. But not the birth of the hippity hop?)
Arabelle takes a deep breath and takes us through the history of hip-hop in an energetic and passionate way. We know our Tonemillers are busy people so let us give you the condensed version of her condensed version. (And by the way, in case you’re on this blog looking for sources for your history school paper about the Bronx in the 70’s, don’t use this as your only source – be an internet explorer!)
“Early 70s New York City.. it’s a smokey somber scene in a black and white movie. Time Square was not all tourists and Broadway shows. In the Bronx they’re experiencing a lot of men going away to prison. If the women aren’t participating in drugs they’re working double to support their family. The result is a whole bunch of lost boys and girls that don’t have anybody to pay attention to them or guide them. They’re basically figuring it out on their own in the streets of New York City.” Arabelle takes a dramatic pause (Yes…she definitely has a theater background!)
“There was a gang called the Ace of Spades. Eventually some leaders of the gang begin to realize that the lifestyle has to end, either you die or you end up in prison, it makes no sense. All of the lost boys and girls are having their own gang wars and long story short a whole bunch of 13 year olds start killing each other,” she says bluntly.
“But then,” she continues with hope in her voice, “then the gang leaders realized that if we come together and talk about our issues and listen and if we get the community involved perhaps we can find solutions and come to understandings rather than killing each other. They decided they needed gatherings so people on the block could know and support each other so they would throw parties where they would mix in the Jamaican MC culture. So 11th of August, 1973 DJ Kool Herc threw a back-to-school jam at 1520 Sedwick Avenue in the Bronx and that, ladies and gentlemen, is when hip-hop was born.”
She goes on explaining that they would throw rap battles as an environment for people to voice their issues with other people. “It was about problem solving! Communication! Not just about being the best – though of course for a lot of people it was about that as well!” she laughs.
This was at the same time when the Kung Fu movies were huge and that Bruce Lee is actually credited as one of the major influencers of breakdancing. (Mind blown!)
The interview has now turned into a lesson in hip hop and your Tonemamas can’t help but roll with it because we are so happy for all this valuable information! So when AirLoom goes on to tell us about the five elements of hip-hop we are still sitting as the eager students we were an hour ago.
“You have: 1. The MC who is the rapper, 2. Breaking, i.e. the dance form, 3. The DJ, 4. Graffiti and 5. The Beatboxer. Beatboxing was basically created in the spirit of the show must go on,” Arabelle laughs. “If the DJ were having tech issues the beatboxer could step in. But beatboxing also managed to take hip-hop to the street!
“In addition to these four elements, KRS-one, a real woke and amazing rapper listed the four principles of hip-hop: Love, Peace, Unity and Having Fun! I’m a little radical for thinking this, but I believe that if it’s not at least one of these things it’s not hip-hop.”
This fascinating lesson goes on with her explaining that to be hip means to be in the know and hop means a jump forward:
“Hip-hop is the conscious movement forward. If your music is not consciously moving the community forward it cannot be considered hip-hop.”
We ask her how she is implementing this statement in her own music. How is she moving the community forward?
“I’m trying to represent a female voice in beatboxing. Beatboxing really connects you to you. To your body. Your steadiness, Your own drum. It makes me genuinely happy. It’s like a self-soother. I can make myself endlessly happy by making a reggaeton beat. I create something within me that I appreciate so much and it’s like a feeling of self-love. And not a single person can take it away from me.”