This A-Profiler we bring you Hawaii beatboxing artist Jason Tom. Find out what inspired him to become a beat boxer, what approach he takes to beatboxing, and where he has had the best Chinese food.
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In one sentence how would you describe yourself?
I'm a walking, talking instrument; a human synthesizer with a spit full of vocal percussion.
Can you speak pidgin? How does one learn this language?
I understand Hawaii Creole English better than I can speak it since Cantonese was predominantly spoken in the household growing up. I do throw in some local lingo from time to time though, and I know I have a Hawaii accent of some sort. How about you?
Who inspired you to become a beat boxer?
Initially, Michael Jackson's song Bad got me started on the beatboxing at the age of four. From then on I kept doing it for fun, but not in front of an audience. It wasn't until after my traumatizing car accident in early 2004 that I contemplated on what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Prior to that I felt burnt out from a lack of moral support for judo, and I wanted to do something I am most passionate about. Months after that I decided to go back to school to finish unfinished business. I also decided to pursue my passion for music and beatboxing on the side while I worked on finishing my college degree. During my fall 2004 college semester I performed in front of my first audience when I was 21 years old going on 22. I finished my degree, and six years later I continue to do music to this day.
Growing up picking up a handmade instrument did not engage me as much as me becoming an actual instrument of music, but I have much respect to those that do play handmade instruments. Many inspired me to become a beatbox performer: God, Jess Navarrete, Michael Jackson, Elaine Chao, my heart, etc.
One of my fondest memories: when I was 10 years old I caught the Michael Jackson interview with Oprah, and he'd beatboxed an a cappella for his song, Who Is It. At the age of 8 or 9 I had my own beatbox version to Who Is It, and so I was surprised how different his version sounded. When Michael Jackson beatboxed (like with his vocals, dance, etc.) he had his own unique style, because he beatboxed like no other beatboxer. Michael Jackson used beatboxing as an instrument to compose and write songs. That is well documented behind the scenes, but prior to his death the mainstream media rarely focused on his creative process as an artist. He was a creative genius, and he is my biggest musical influence.
Who is the best beat boxer out there today?
There's no such thing as a "best." It's subjective to a listener's perspective and preference. Some will say Rahzel, Kenny Muhammad, Killa Kela, Doug E. Fresh, Blake Lewis, Biz Markie, Roxorloops, Beardyman, Michael Winslow, Matisyahu, Jason Tom, etc. It depends who you ask, and which artist a person "connects" with most.
Can you give a brief beat boxing 101 lesson to our readers?
Here's a break down: the term "beatbox" originally referred to drum machines or rhythm machines. Then "human beatbox" was coined by Barry B. for Doug E. Fresh or in other words a "human drum machine." That's what beatboxers are fundamentally, and beatboxing (vocal percussion) is the fifth element of hip-hop. Beatboxing is not limited to any specific genre of music though.
Beatboxers usually start off with three fundamental sounds called a kick drum, hi-hat, and a snare (from a drum kit) replicated by the voice/mouth. Then from there a sound repertoire is developed.
If AArising readers want live beatbox lessons then they can visit my human beatbox workshop in Honolulu at the Diverse Art Center, and a great online beatbox resource to check out ishttp://humanbeatbox.com.
Are there many Asian American beat boxers out there?
Not many Asian American beatboxer names out there. Off the top I can name myself (Jason Tom), Leejay Abucayan (currently with GLP), and Elaine Chao. That's it really that I know of. Elaine Chao, though is not currently active in the beatbox scene I don't think, was an initial beatbox inspiration for me to start performing. I saw her, an Asian American woman, rocking the mic beatboxing on theShowtime At The Apollo TV program back in 2003. When I saw that I entertained the thought to myself of possibly rocking a mic on stage beatboxing since I beatboxed all of the time at home, and I started to perform in front of people around September 2004. It took me a while to get comfortable on stage, because prior to that I did it when no one was watching. Beatboxing is personal to me, but now I have fun sharing it on stage.
Do you sometimes say to yourself “damn that was good” after your performance?
Depends what was good. In terms of performance it's not good to think from a performer's perspective in that way of our own performance (I found out at least), because there's a risk that a performer may get complacent. I've experienced that, and it's suicidal for an artist. For me I let the live audience decide whether my performance was good or not. But I don't think too much about it, because I just do what I do. I continue to practice regularly, I thank God, and I never forget to enjoy what I do. I remind myself to have fun doing what I do. I only go for a feel of a performance now, and when I connect with an audience then I can intuitively tell how the performance went for the most part. Earlier this year I connected with a pet love bird, by the name of Diesel, that an audience member brought, and Diesel sang along with my bird calls during my Cantonese lullaby rendition about a sparrow entitled, "有隻雀仔跌落水 (有只雀仔跌落水)."
Are there different styles of beat boxing? How would you describe your beat boxing style?
There are different approaches to beatboxing, for sure. I approach beatboxing with a musician's perspective, and my approach is also artistically driven. I have no formal training, but I study live instruments that other musicians play by ear. I ingrain mental notes on the character and shape of how a live instrument sounds. For example if I were to listen to a drum kit being played live in a full band, I'll isolate the hi-hat sound by ear to study intently how I can vocally replicate its metallic character to give it character. When I beatbox I want my sounds to have "movement" that create shapes to a listeners' aural perspective, and make my beats come alive as it is produced by an organic instrument.
What musical artist would you like to work with and why?
Artist Faioso recently released her debut album Nobody Owns Me, and I'm featured on her track I'm Moving On. You can get it on iTunes or CDBaby.
As with artists I haven't worked with: MC Jin, his background story is something I connect with as a person as well as an artist, and he's an overall good guy. Working with instrumentalists would be nice. I'd love to work with Ahn Trio, because every time I hear their stuff I feel tempted to vocally emulate their violin playing. I haven't spent time to do that though. I "hear" in my head a human voice when I listen to most string instruments (bass guitar, electric guitar, violin, èrhú, etc.), and that makes me want to sing along with string instruments. I'm down to collaborate with as many artists possible, but lately I've been caught up with other projects.
Who are some up and coming beat boxing artists?
Talking about myself: Jason Tom does have an upcoming..... beatbox performance tour in China. Potentially, I'm currently in talks to perform in Shanghai, China as I type. I'm hoping that happens.
Finish this sentence; “My ______ needs fine tuning?”
My "EPK" needs fine tuning. Besides that I feel I always gotta fine tune my natural instrument, my voice, and always practice my beatbox techniques. I work on my vocal range a lot more than before for various techniques, and I'm honing techniques I didn't think I could do before. Sometimes I'd get real bad asthma allergies when the vog (sulfur dioxide) from Kīlauea reaches O'ahu, and that causes me to put practice to a halt. It's frustrating when I lose my voice due to the allergies.
What does being Chinese American mean to you?
For me as a Chinese American I embrace both cultures, and I choose not to be ashamed to be part of either. I speak English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. My weakest is in Cantonese due to my lack of formal language training in it. I can't picture the Chinese characters in my head as I speak Cantonese, but with Mandarin I can. I'm a visual learner, and that aspect of the Cantonese language can be frustrating for me. I see things in motion pictures or visual images in my head. I also dislike how I can't type in Cantonese as easily as I can type in Mandarin.
Do you prefer living in CA or HI? What area has a better surf scene?
I prefer living in Hawaii, because I have bigger opportunities to make a difference for the next generation. Making something happen in Hawaii means more, because it's where my heart is. When I lived in California during my college break it helped me to expand my mind, and to think bigger to pursue bigger dreams. Travel is a major influence in my life, and it's enriching to also live abroad. People who have not done travel in their lives should in my opinion. I really enjoy meeting people from different parts of the globe by traveling to places that I am not used to, and I hope to do more traveling.
Better surf scene? Surfing the net is worldwide so it doesn't matter. Joke joke. I don't surf the waves, but I hear that people often tell me that he or she prefers the cleaner beaches of Hawaii.
Who serves up better Chinese food CA or HI?
When I lived in the Bay Area of California I felt that the Chinese food there tasted fresher than Hawaii's, but then again the Bay Area has an advantage with a much bigger Chinese American population. Hawaii in general has a pretty small Chinese American population, and a tiny Chinatown. California has multiple Chinatowns, and a huge Chinese American population.
The best Chinese food I've had so far, hands down for my preference, was in Southern China (since the Chinese food in America is essentially influenced by Southern China). The fish there tasted so good. When I lived in Beijing I had some trouble digesting the food since the food in Northern China is different from Southern China, but I still enjoyed it. I really enjoyed living in Beijing, because I could utilize Mandarin 24/7. I can't do that in Hawaii since a majority of the Chinese American population here speak Cantonese, and my Cantonese isn't as strong as my Mandarin. It's funny to think about that now since I did not understand a word of Mandarin growing up prior to my formal language training in Mandarin.
What is one thing you have to do when you’re in HI?
If you're visiting Hawaii, you should come out to a Jason Tom show. I cannot stress it enough that beatboxing is best experienced live, and that's why I choose not to have a whole lot of videos of me performing online. Taking a 5-7 mile hike is a good option if you want exercise. If you don't want it rigorous then you can always hike Diamond Head.
Do you believe beat boxing is a lost art or has it grown recently in popularity?
In my opinion beatboxing was never a lost art, because we have Rahzel who continues to perform globally to spread it. It's just an art that isn't well publicized compared to other art forms, and that's why there are folks like me who continue to spread the art form further. Folks like American Idol's Blake Lewis, America's Got Talent Butterscotch, Matisyahu, Michael Winslow, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, and many more help to spread an awareness of the art form.
Where do you see your beat boxing career taking you in 5 years?
It's not where my beatbox career is gonna take me, because it's where I'm going to take my beatbox career. For that it's where ever God wants me to take it.
What musical artist do you have on your mp3 player?
I don't own a mp3 player. I used to listen to a lot of my CDs, but not as often now. I am my own music for the most part and I listen to a ton of live music at local shows. I hear music in my head always even if nothing is playing. My last CD I recently listened to though, and used during my one of my recent beatbox workshops was Ne-Yo's Year of the Gentleman album to go over how a beatboxer would go about dissecting a song.
What are some things you like to do outside of beat boxing?
Outside of beatboxing I like to hike, on occasion converse in Mandarin, dance, listen to live music, listen to nature, listen to the thoughts of people, read, surf the net, spend time with God, and spend quality time with close friends.
Thanks for taking time out to answer my questions, any parting words you like to say to your fans?
First off I want to thank you, Nelson Wong, and AArisings for doing an A-Profile on me. I want to thank God, my supporters, fans, family, and friends for supporting me. I want to thank the press, and the journalists that have done features on me. I hope that all of you reading can come out to my upcoming shows year round. Also you can write me at http://jasontom.com, alohaaa, and a hui hou!!!
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This issue of A-Profiler is brought to you by Ray Lam.
Special thanks to Jason Tom.
Photos used with permission.
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