The beatboxers of Dubai

How vocal percussionists are taking the UAE by storm

“I wouldn’t call it a genre but an instrument, just like playing drums or guitar,” says Hirabeat, a Dubai-based beatbox champion. “But people see it as a circus act. They think beatboxing is not an art form, or something you don’t need to practice, like singing or playing the keyboard.”

An artist who mimics synthesisers, DJ decks and ambient drums to create a complete rhythm section via vocal percussion, Hirabeat is nevertheless one of a handful of beatboxers championing the flourishing new beatbox scene in Dubai. Battles are being staged, parties are being rocked, clubs and being destroyed, with beatboxers slowly finding their voice amidst the emergence of an underground, high energy hip-hop scene.

“I got into beatboxing about seven years ago,” says Beatbox Ray, another Dubai-based beatboxer whose real name is Uday Narendra Jagda.

“There was a show on MTV called Barrio 19 which showcased all the urban talent from around the world and they featured a beatboxer from the UK called Faith SFX. I was very surprised that you can make actual percussive sounds and weird sound effects using just your voice. I always just loved the idea of making music but never bothered learning an instrument; but that really intrigued me. I’m happy Faith SFX was the first beatboxer I saw because he was, and still is, one of the beatboxers known for his musicality.”

Traditionally known as the fifth pillar or element of hip-hop – the others being rap music, turntablism, break dancing and graffiti art – beatboxing is making a name for itself alongside the growth of hip-hop in Dubai, even if the proponents remain few in number and live hip-hop acts can be hit and miss. Beatbox battles are staged as frequently as possible in venues across the city, with the emergence of a sustainable underground scene indicative of the city’s maturing as a centre of musical diversity.

Hirabeat has performed in clubs and venues across Manila and the UAE

“Beatbox Ray and Tamer are really trying to push the scene and there are a new breed of beatboxers trying to make their name, like G Beat and some other guys in Abu Dhabi,” says Hirabeat, whose real name is Richie Lozada Hiranandani. “You can be really creative with beatboxing, as it depends on what type of music you listen to. Plus there are a lot of beatboxers, such as Beardyman, who have taken looping to the next level.”

Half-Filipino and half-Indian, Hirabeat has performed in clubs and venues across Manila and the UAE, while as part of hip-hop collective The Recipe he has performed at several spots across the city, as well as at the Red Bull Air Race. He was also the 2009 Middle East Beatbox Champion.

“Beatboxing has the humble and necessary roots of hip hop, which makes the beatboxing community always an eager-to-learn community, with nothing but respect for each others’ skills,” says Beatbox Ray, who is also a member of A cappella group The Notables.

“The scene in the UAE is growing, but at a very slow rate. There are good beatboxers here and more are coming up slowly who are hungry for more gigs and are always jumping at an opportunity to battle or showcase their skills no matter if it’s a gig or just a gathering. It hasn’t grown to a point where we could see an ‘all beatbox’ event happening here, but I’m hoping it will get there. With the welcoming attitude of Dubai towards all other art forms, it has to happen sooner or later.

“I have immense love for what I do. When I’m performing I project all the feelings I have to the crowd and want them to have as much fun as me. It’s a very clichéd answer, but I become a completely different person to the one my friends know. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”