Simon Shlomo Kahn jumps onto the Udderbelly stage with a big microphone in his hand looking more like Simon Bird in Friday Night Dinner (and my brother as a younger man) than a beatboxing champion and world recordbreaker who has worked with Ed Sheeran, Damon Albarn and Björk to name a handful of many.
He is better known as Shlomo and he has brought the vocal form of beatboxing to the mainstream in an interesting way. The show we went to see at Udderbelly was his kids’ show – his Beatbox Adventure for Kids – his other side is Shlomo the composer, teacher and beatboxing artist who has performed at every Glastonbury since 2005.
But back to his show for kids. The audience is full of families, the adults as excited as the kids about the upcoming fun when Shlomo himself announces: ‘Ladies and gentlemen/ Are you ready to party?’ He promises us an adventure, a mad journey through space and time and that we will all be certified beatboxers by the end of it. I love the idea of this, but no, my embouchure was trembling a few minutes in, out of time with my double chins, and I knew I was going to be pleased to leave this particular art to the youngsters.
Right away Shlomo teaches us a few noises to make with our mouths (Boom! Ti! Cla!) and conducts the noise and cheers made by different parts of the auditorium like a massive beatbox orchestra. The best bits though are always when he shows us how to do it. Amazing hip hop rhythms, making inventive noises with his mouth to such varying effects, just one man on stage armed only with a microphone. No surprise that he was a classically trained percussionist and drummer, with a jazz guitarist for a father.
It is a great thing that Shlomo expects no prior understanding of the culture of human beatboxing. As a hip hop enthusiast from (cough) when I was young, I wanted my own kids to understand a bit what beatboxing was about, and where it came from. Shlomo sets the scene early on and talks about ‘the eighties’ when the street parties would have been happening in New York. When the batteries in the ghetto blaster ran out, he explained, one important (unnamed) person tried making music with his or her mouth in order to carry on the party – and that was when beatboxing was born and hip hop was saved! Hurrah! Everybody cheers! Shlomo emphasises the egalitarian aspect of beatboxing, that it didn’t matter where you were from, whether rich or poor, what colour skin you had, you fit in and anyone could have a go and take part. That’s always a nice message for diverse kids in London to hear (and indeed any type of kids anywhere).
Shlomo then teaches us a few basics: noises for the hi-hat, the snare, the kick and the synth. Then the bass mic, which is amazing to behold – when he does it, that is! – the sound comes off his throat somewhere and makes the whole purple tent vibrate. He shows us a few more tricks, like when to breathe, and how to do different things independently. I realise that, like teaching oneself to pat one’s head and rub one’s stomach at the same time, learning how to beatbox well must take oodles of time and practice, as well as top notch rhythmic skills and (in a nutshell) talent.
The last part of the show involves getting some kids up out of the audience, teaching them a few more tricks and then having a beatbox competition. I personally found this less fun than when you just get to hear Shlomo do his thing, and actually my own kids agreed with me, but it was interesting to see that some of them actually had some potential.
The climax comes with the selfie of Shlomo and his audience. I couldn’t see us at all in the picture but of course the kids spotted us immediately. We’re to the left of the shot.
Shlomo has an amazing vocal talent and this show is a great introduction to the beatboxing culture. The kids’ verdicts? Brilliant, cool, and unique.
Udderbelly is on at the South Bank until 17th July and is packed full of goodies for families and adults. More details here.
Disclosure: We were given free tickets to see Shlomo’s Beatbox Adventures for Kids for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own. Photos taken by me, apart from the selfie, which was taken by Shlomo.