A group of beatboxers from Wandsworth are gathering to rehearse in Battersea Arts Centre this autumn after a year of practising online.
The Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) Beatbox Academy (BBA), which has been running for 13 years, is a group of young musicians and performers aged 8-29 with a passion for making their own music.
Genres they specialise in include R&B, hip hop, dubstep and grime.
Dolly, 12, found out about the group after watching BBA’s performance, Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster in 2019.
The show was created by six BBA members who reinvented Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein entirely through the human mouth, with beatboxing, singing and rapping.
She said: “Now that I’m in secondary school you have homework and detention and it’s all quite stressful.
“BBA gives me something to look forward to every week.
“When you’re in a bad mood or stressed out, you have BBA to look forward to and it makes all the bad things go away.”
The pandemic made rehearsals challenging for the beatboxers, as meeting over Zoom made it difficult for them to hear each other and poor internet connections often worsened this.
Ja-Shawn, 11, joined the BBA when he was seven, after having some experience in the art from a beatboxing choir at his school.
He said: “I joined beatboxing because I thought it would help me with music – it makes me happy, and it’s a jumpy feeling.”
Currently, boys outweigh girls at the academy, and Dolly wants this to change.
She expressed: “I would like to see more girls – I’m the only girl under thirteen.
“It’s not stereotypical here. The girls don’t always sing and the boys don’t always rap and beatbox.
“We always change it up and anyone can do what they want. If you’re a girl and you want to rap, there’s no judgement.”
Dolly explained that beatboxing has helped her with school and day-to-day life, as constantly rehearsing compositions has aided her memory.
BBA members describe their group as a place to express yourself, and to do something energetic when you leave the house for the Arts Centre every week.
Conrad Murray, the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Beatbox Academy echoed this.
He said: “Composing is all about memory – they master improvisation first, then the ear becomes trained. And they’re composing all the time.”
Rehearsals see the beatboxers composing pieces in small groups and coming together at the end to showcase the music they have made, with microphones amplifying their sound as a fusion of beats and voices fills the room.
Assistant Facilitator Kate Donnachie joined the academy when she was nineteen, and now supervises the weekly rehearsals.
She said: “I genuinely don’t know what I’d be doing in my career if I hadn’t gone to that audition. My life would have gone in a different direction.”
With many young people dealing with anxiety and poor mental health during the pandemic, activities like the BAC Beatbox Academy offers a chance to feel alive and creative again, growing the confidence of young musicians as they collaborate with each other.
BAC Creative Communities Manager Lydia Paulett, who has been working on the BBA for three years, expressed that she wants to see people place more value on the academy.
Hopes for the future include not only more girls, but performances in front of larger crowds as COVID restrictions have now eased.
The Beatbox Academy’s impact spreads wide with returning members, one of which joins the weekly rehearsals from India since moving there last year.
Murray added: “We want more young people and academies, and for our work to be performed in different places.
“We want to be more established in what we are doing.”
The autumn term has begun for young BBA members, running until 25 November 2021.
The programme is now pay what you can for all members, in line with the other shows at BAC.
BAC removed the financial barrier to encourage local young people to get involved and show what they can do.
They can now sign up to the Battersea Arts Centre Beatbox Academy via bac.org.uk/create-with-us/bac-beatbox-academy/ or attend the end of term performance on November 25.