July 14--The idea of using your mouth to sound like a drum, police siren, or dripping faucet, or to create an entire backing track for someone to sing to, might confound most of us, but for one Sharjah musician, it's as easy as breathing.
Born and bred in Dubai to Indian parents, Beatbox Ray, popularly known to his parents and workmates as Uday Jagda, is one of the UAE's up-and-coming beatbox talents.
For the 22-year-old accounts assistant at an insurance firm in Sharjah, it's a bit of a double life -- man in suit by day, hip-hop style clothed beatboxer by night. Most of his workmates don't know about his real passion, meaning he can have all the fun he likes hiding in the pantry and making dripping water sounds to bewilder his lunch-eating colleagues.
He's performed on the same stage as some pretty big names, including American hip-hop legends Erykah Badu and De La Soul -- an impressive feat for a guy who didn't realise he could do this until about four years ago.
"I was just imitating beats while a friend was singing ... I was just literally spitting.
"And then he said the magic word -- you know how to 'beatbox'."
He started researching the vocal percussion art form, where drumbeats and musical sounds are created using usually only the mouth. From there, he locked himself in his room for days on end, only coming out to eat and drink, much to the bewilderment of his parents, "who probably thought I was just playing video games".
In fact, he was learning everything he could from tutorials and chatrooms on YouTube and websites like Humanbeatbox.com on how to produce basic and then more complex, drum beats, or specific sounds like a police siren.
"That was right at the time I figured out I sucked as a singer.
"I needed something to be good at.
"Mum was a bit weirded out -- she thought that I was just making sounds, because she didn't know much about it, but then when she saw my gigs and that I was getting in the media, she realised I was doing something.
"The goal is to make music. I love music. Beatboxing was one of the ways I could express it, I can't do it any other way."
His first gig was about four minutes long, supporting the same friend who discovered his talent.
"I didn't make much of it, I was just having fun.
"But the crowds ate it up, they loved it.
"It was strange ... I was never much of a spotlight guy. I was the guy who you went through school from grade 8 and didn't know existed until the 12th grade."
It hasn't been the easiest route, given the scene here was still at a "toddler" stage, and he could count the number of good beatboxers in the UAE on one hand, but continually learning and exposing himself to as many good beatboxers from 'outside' helped.
"I made sure I got good at the technicalities of drumming. It always amazes people that the complex patterns that a drum makes can come out of your mouth."
And now, it's as "basic as breathing".
"Friends and strangers ask how I do it, but it's just easy for me ... it has got to a point I don't even realise I'm doing it.
"It's like constant background music that I create. Even when there are no people (to listen), if I'm just feeling dub step or hip hop, I'll just do it as I'm walking."
When asked how it worked, he said it was like saying a normal alphabet letter or word, but not using your voice to pronounce it.
"Make your mouth like you're saying the word, but don't vocalise it ... just apply pressure.
"Most people don't think you can make two sounds at the same time, but any human can do it."
Ray has recorded backing tracks for BlackBerry and Kodak commercials, recently performed at the Sikka Art Fair, and recorded a full-length track for the Sikka Score Vol.1 CD released last month.
Now, he's working on a full album with local indie lable, Cannonball, and is passionate about developing the scene, and gathering "all the beatboxers gassed up and sitting in their home" for more 'battles' and workshops.
It was important aspiring beatboxers realised that in order for the scene here to grow, they had 'to grow too" -- and take the time to learn the technical elements of their craft, and not just be a "party trick", he added.
"You need to practice for years."
(c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
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