Although beatboxing — the art of crafting sounds with the mouth — initially began with people imitating basic drum noises, modern-day beatboxing has evolved into full musical performances across numerous genres with an unthinkable variety of sounds. The kicks, hi-hats and snares are the three most common sounds in beatbox. Kenyan artist Checkmate Mido is focused on promoting this art form in Kenya.
On 24 September the beatboxer released his first solo EP, Box of Beats, at the Alchemist Bar in Nairobi. The five-track EP covers a variety of human frailties, including unrequited love, self-doubt, emotional expression and overcoming fear. The five tracks on the album include: ‘Box of Beats’, ‘Nilimcheki’ (I Saw Her), ‘Black Skin’, ‘Letters’ and ‘To the World’.
“Box of Beats is an exploration of the intersection between different music forms, from the classic guitar, to poetry and beatboxing. For me, the EP is a metaphor for the beats in our bodies; our heartbeats; the beats in our minds as well as, of course, the beats of music,” Mido says of his latest project.
‘Box of Beats’, which is the first track on the EP, features a variety of styles, including beatboxing and rap. Unlike the opening track, ‘Black Skin’ purely employs beatboxing. ‘Letters’, which is the only other solo track, is more nostalgic. The song talks of two lovers who have parted. The man admits to how hard he has tried to get the lady off his mind. Instead he ends up writing a letter to his old flame.
“…Since we met in June you have been on my mind. Your words opened my world. But I never saw you again. When the rains came in August, I stood in the rains hoping they would wash away memories of you. In September, the memories we shared came back…” Mido belts out.
Among the artists Mido has featured on the EP are Mo Pearson, Ngare Mukiria, Janice Iche and Booker K.
The master beatboxer, whose sound is infused with rap verses and acoustic guitar rhythms, emerged on the Kenyan art scene in 2010. He has dabbled in various art forms, including poetry, acting and music.
State of beatboxing in Kenya
Mido says that beatboxing is yet to gain popularity in Kenya. “There are no platforms dedicated to this form of art. At the moment it plays second fiddle at events, where organizers included it as an afterthought,” he opines.
However, he says that there have been efforts by various entities to introduce audiences to this art form. He cites a 2014 concert by the French institute Alliance Francaise, which hosted Under Kontrol, a quartet of beatboxers from France. Inspired by this concert and other beatboxers in Kenya, Mido is exploring how best to make beatboxing earn recognition.
He says the appreciation and the connection that audiences show towards his beatboxing showcases have encouraged him to pursue this less known art form.