Dyed-in-the-wool rock fans might argue that electronic music is an imitation
of the real thing. A collection of bleeps and beats spat out by machines devoid
of the requisite emotions inherent only in real music. But what would these
Rockists say about a performer who imitates electronic music using his mouth and
Killa Kela, one of the foremost practitioners of beatboxing from
London, is set to hit Beijing and Shanghai early next month.
Introducing Killa Kela, lauded as one of the foremost practitioners of
beatboxing, which essentially means to make beats and copy the sounds of
instruments by spluttering into a microphone. Kind of like a virtuoso
entertainer but not in the way that Leo Sayer envisioned when he wrote the song
One Man Band. Think more in terms of, there's a party in his mouth and
Still, any ordinary Joe Blow with breath in their lungs can make drums noises
- admittedly, some with more rhythm than others.
But Kela is possessed of the rare ability to make it sound as if he is
mimicking several instruments simultaneously. He can even sing over the top of
beats he spits out at the same time. It's an approach that Kela refers to as
Kela, AKA Lee Potter, is the leader of a London group (or "soundsystem" as he
calls it) appropriately named Spit Kingdom.
"We started back in 2002 and set a club night up called Spit Kingdom HQ.
Since then, we've been touring, making music and ripping up shows," he said.
But where did Kela's passion to burp out these noises originate? Couldn't he
access a drum kit when he was a kid, or was it just a way of not having to lug
around a lot of equipment? Nope, says the 27-year-old; his musical direction was
just a matter of a little family prompting.
"What inspired me was my dad. He was a drummer when I was young. Plus my mum,
who was into 80s soul," he said. "Hip-hop and drum & bass came along in my
teens, as did groups like The Prodigy; then Grime came along late 90s. It all
created an influence for what I do," he said.
"That's why I beatbox the way I do. I don't stick to one style. That's been
the problem with beatboxing: they only restrict it to hip-hop. Being able to
roll on any style, that's how you enhance your skill and ability."
And in the spirit of spreading the message of mouth-molded music and sharing
with new audiences the skills that led to appearances with stars such as Justin
Timberlake and Pharrell Williams, Kela is set to hit Beijing and Shanghai.
"Me and the crew are so, so excited! We're coming 'cos we want to meet China
face-to-face and party man! Brap!" Kela said.
For those of you not acquainted with the latest hip street slag, "brap" can
mean either the sound you make when a great song comes on at a rave or something
that is said to add endorsement to a statement or observation. Killa Kela, not
shy of showcasing his mastery of an urban lexicon, is also fond of the title
For instance, in answer to the question: Have you had a chance to hear much
of what Chinese beatboxers are doing? Kela replied: "Na, I haven't, man. Apart
from Hong Kong, this is gonna be the first time I've been to China. I'm excited
to hear some new and amazing talent you guys have to offer, plus taking the good
vibes back to London."
Hopefully during his travels on the mainland Kela might get to visit Yanji,
in Northeast China's Jilin Province. It's a city of 400,000 people - a relative
village compared to metropolises such as Beijing or Shanghai. But a filmmaker
named Liu Feng recently discovered that Yanji boasts a vibrant underground
A trailer of Liu's documentary, Yan Bian Box, shows dozens of teenagers
showcasing their oral dexterity, even appearing in the city's own beatboxing
Yanji's geographical location may provide an explanation for how a subculture
such as beatboxing thrives in a place with such a relatively small population.
The city's proximity to South Korea, with all of its Western pop culture
influences, is given as a reason by a few of those featured in the documentary
preview for why beatboxing is so popular there.
Nationally, the musical form may remain largely unknown. However, China does
have its very own beatboxing website - www.bboxcn.com - and a quick trawl
through YouTube reveals various clips of local beatboxers busting out for the
Moreover, vocal mimicry is an art form with a rich tradition in the Middle
Kingdom. In fact, China may be credited as the birthplace of orally replicated
Kouji, which was conceived during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), saw artists
making sounds like crying babies, animals, snoring sleepers and crashing
buildings. OK, it's not exactly in keeping with the hip-hop influences of
beatboxers, but it's not so far removed from what come out of the gobs of Yanji
kids and Killa Kela.
For a musical style that remains on the fringe of the mainstream, amateur
beatboxers can take heart in the major record company interest generated by
stars of the genre, such as Killa Kela. His 2005 album, Elocution, was released
through industry giant BMG.
"I'd been doing shows for a long time, and we had a concept idea for an
album; they put us on a development deal to build the album," Kela said.
BMG's subsequent merger with Sony saw the artist part ways with the record
label for reasons he cites as "company issues". Still, Kela insists that the
exercise was worthwhile.
"I'm not at all bitter about any experiences I had at that time, 'cos I
learnt so much. And the fact is, if someone had turned around to me on the day
of signing and said to me what the future held, I still would have done it all.
A lot of doors opened for me and I'm grateful."
The Englishman is not so pleased about tabloid journalism. This issue riled
him so much that he felt the need to address it in his 2007 release, Reveal Your
"Society loves to gossip, and not only are they prepared to pay money for
those magazines that write lies and scandal, but the writers and photographers
are more than just ignorant to keep writing lies about people for crazy money."
Chinese B-boys and B-girls can catch a glimpse of the sensationalist news-rag
remonstrator Killa Kela when he hits Beijing and Shanghai next month. Kela will
perform at Beijing's Star Live on June 1 and Shanghai's Absolute House on June
(China Daily 05/26/2007 page5)