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Ball-Zee: Gobsmacking the Fringe

By | Published on Thursday 21 July 2016


Lots of a capella shows come to the Edinburgh Festival each year, and to be fair, most of them are pretty excellent. Yet ‘Gobsmacked!’ goes a step beyond, really, offering up a slick and theatrical show that tells a story as well as incorporating all sorts of vocal styling, from the traditional to the cutting edge.
One of the members of the seven-strong cast is internationally renowned beatboxing champion Ball-Zee and, because we are fans of a capella and big fans of beatboxing too, we spoke to him ahead of the latest Edinburgh run, to find out more about the upcoming show and his career to date.

CM: First of all, give us an idea of what to expect from the show. What format does it take?
BZ: ‘Gobsmacked!’ is the ultimate modern a cappella show. Expect amazing singers, a great looking young cast, song that’ll make you want to get up and dance, and the beatboxing is not bad too! The show uses songs that most of the audience will know to tell a series of stories.

CM: Is everything you do a team effort or do you each have solo moments?
BZ: A cappella singing is inherently a team sport: you’ve got to be constantly listening and harmonising with your fellow cast members or else it’ll sound bad. That being said, everyone gets their moment to shine, and you get a real sense of everyone’s personality and what they bring to the group. The characters – and the cast themselves – are very different, but together make a great team.

CM: How expansive is the show in terms of the genres it covers?
BZ: We do everything from David Guetta to Mumford & Sons to Prince to Queen. There’s a bit of everything! It’s a real challenge switching genres so often between songs, but it’s great to be covering so many different styles.

CM: Tell us a bit about your fellow-performers in the show. How were you all brought together for this?
BZ: There are seven people in the cast and we’re from all over the world. We have people from Boston, Brisbane, Sao Paolo, London, and of course the greatest city of all – Huddersfield! Yeah, that’s my home town.

Over seven hundred people auditioned to be in the show and we hadn’t met each other before we started performing together in ‘Gobsmacked!’ That being said, they already feel like my family. Doing a show as intense as this means you get to know people really well really quickly.

CM: What attracted you to the show in the first place?
BZ: Working with great musicians and creating something theatrical that was more than a concert or gig. It’s great to expand the appeal of beatboxing past club gigs. Working in the theatre has also informed my approach to beatboxing – I definitely use that experience to better my own club or gig shows.

CM: Yes, as you say, you’re the beatboxer, which is somewhat different than your standard a cappella singing. How do the different styles fit together?
BZ: One of the things I’ve had to work very hard at for the show is making sure I can beatbox in different styles so what I do complements rather than distracts from the music we’re making.

As in life, sometimes the loudest voice is the most dissonant, so for this show it’s all about the whole rather than the individual. As I say, we all have our time to shine in the show, but for the rest of the time it’s about blending, tuning, complementing your other performers…whether that’s singing or beatboxing.

CM: When did you start beatboxing? Was it something you always wanted to do? How did you develop your own style?
BZ: I started when I was about fifteen when I saw some videos of the New York hip hop scene and heard beatboxing for the first time. That was just amazing to me and I knew I wanted to do something like that. It took me about eight or nine years to work my way up to being UK and international champion, and developing my own style was certainly a big help in that.

Beatboxers all approach beatboxing from a different angle… some are very aggressive with their beats and rhythms, some try to be very musical, some try to have a huge variation of sounds. My approach is to make sure every single beat is as clean and crisp as it possibly can be so you have an strong consistency of sound.

CM: How long did it take you to get good at it? What advice would you give to someone wanting to learn how to do it?
BZ: I’m still learning myself! I watch videos of myself from last year and think that it’s rubbish so I’m constantly trying to improve. If you want to start beatboxing there are loads and loads of YouTube videos out there from which you can learn. What I’d suggest is start by finding one or two beatboxers you really like and see if you can develop your sounds like theirs… eventually your own style will emerge.

CM: You’ve won loads of acclaim and competitions during your career so far, and done lots of high profile performances – is there a highlight that sticks out?
BZ: Oh man… loads. Winning the UK championships for the third time in a row was a highlight – definitely. And last year, winning the world team beatbox championships with my crew The Beatbox Collective was also a huge honour, especially after we put in so much work. Also the travelling has been great – this year alone I’ve performed in Hong Kong, China, India, Dubai, Germany… and the list goes on. All the international shows are fun.

CM: Where is your career going from here? Where do you see yourself headed? Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
BZ: Well ‘Gobsmacked!’ is touring in 2016 and 2017 so I’ll be doing that for a while. In terms of things outside ‘Gobsmacked!’, I’ll be performing a lot with The Beatbox Collective and doing solo shows. I’d love to also develop my own Fringe show… maybe look out for me in 2017.

CM: What are you looking forward to about being in Edinburgh this summer?
BZ: Last time we were here with ‘Gobsmacked!’ it was the first time we were doing the show, so I spent so much time just getting the show right I didn’t get to relax and see so much other stuff. This time since we’ve just finished ‘Gobsmacked!’ in London and the show is in a great state, so I can relax and see other things while in Edinburgh!

CM: You mentioned ‘Gobsmacked!’ is touring through the year. But what else is coming up for you in the immediate future?
BZ: After Edinburgh, a holiday! We’ve been performing non-stop since the end of May, so I’m looking forward to some R&R. Earlier this year I did some shows in India and then went to Goa for a break and loved it. I think I’ll head back there for a few weeks after the Fringe to recharge the batteries, detox and relax for a while.

‘Gobsmacked!’ was performed at Underbelly George Square at Edinburgh Festival 2016.

LINKS: gobsmackedtheshow.com