thu 07/12/2023

Shlomo, Purcell Room | reviews, news & interviews

Shlomo, Purcell Room

Shlomo, Purcell Room

Can beatboxing for babies be more than a novelty act?

Shlomo: perfect mix of nerdiness and braggadocio

Ever since becoming a parent – given that it's my job to look at how music connects to its audience – thoughts about what gets children engaged with it have rarely been far from my mind. It brings home a lot of questions about how much of our reactions to music are learned and how much instinctive, about the functions it serves in our lives, about whether old platitudes about music bringing people together carry any weight and so on.

And occasionally it makes me listen with fresh ears too.

In particular it's been fascinating to see how the visceral appeal of certain types of grassroots music works on kids without context or expectations. My wife has recently been involved in the set-up of afternoon “family raves” and when DJing there, I was very pleased to find that where I'd expected familiar and simple melodies to be the order of the day, in fact children react most readily to the sci-fi gurgles of acid house, the vast bass drops of dubstep and the furious rhythm patterns of jungle and drum'n'bass.

Shlomo, beatboxingIt's clear too that the basic principles of hip hop can connect deeply with kids. It's easy to snark at the idea of street dance being taught in nurseries but I've seen for myself the way pre-schoolers start to walk and move with more confidence and balance as a result of it – and even as a baby, my boy enjoyed a show deeply rooted in those principles. So, with him now four years old, it made sense to take him to see a human beatbox show for kids.

It's a long time since beatboxing has had much serious traction in the hip hop world – though you can still frequently hear snippets of it sampled in new school tracks – but it's clear it still has plenty of entertainment value (witness the huge success of comedian/beatboxer/musician Beardyman). And 30-year-old Simon “Shlomo” Kahn (pictured right), while no megastar, has certainly found himself a niche since emerging ten years ago with a Björk collaboration, and is a fixture at UK and international festivals.

A fine balance between hip hop braggadocio and nerdy delightShlomo comes from a long tradition of geeky Jewish kids immersing themselves in hip hop culture going right back to the Beastie Boys and Def Jam founder Rick Rubin, and this was encapsulated in his mannerisms on stage at the South Bank. His voice constantly swung between urban patter and awkward schoolboy, and in the presentation of his skills there was a fine balance between hip hop braggadocio and the delight of a nerdy researcher in the discovery of new and strange techniques.

All of this made his show a delight, both for my son, and for me as an adult music fan. In constantly getting the audience to try the very simplest parts of his technique, he managed to get over the appeal of his craft in hip hop terms – pride in prowess in rhythm, breath control and crowd control, the power of spontaneous street music – and in a more silly, childish delight in making sneezing, hissing and raspberry sounds with the mouth.

It was a show all about participation, and even when he got four under-tens onstage to battle against each other, it was a pleasure to watch – particularly the puzzlement of one naturally talented little ginger girl at the rather more, um, avant-garde rhythms of the boy she was partnered with. And crucially, though my four-year-old has showed no interest in trying to beatbox since the show, for its duration he was locked into its groove, hungry for knowledge and actively absorbing chunks of cultural history. That's certainly not something to blow a raspberry at.

There was silly, childish delight in making sneezing, hissing and raspberry sounds with the mouth


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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