A few weeks ago I did an interview with May Pang's Asian Media Internet News (AMIN) journalist Maimounah Masudi. I share my story along with my experiences with opening for Quest Crew, the Jabbawockeez, Michael Winslow, and my awe-inspiring experience at the International Secret Agents concerts in 2009. Click below image for the complete interview:
Hawaii is known as one of the most beautiful places on earth. I dream of going there one day to walk its beaches and experience the wonderful culture. Hawaii is more than surfing, bright floral shorts, spam musubi, hula dancing, and ukuleles. There is a music culture in Hawaii that is pioneered by hot and vibrant artists that for the most part don’t reach the ears of those on the mainland. I recently did an interview with one of Hawaii’s awesome music artists, human beatboxer Jason Tom. He has performed live with local artists such as Jake Shimabukuro, Kamuela Kahoano, Pimpbot, Kings of Spade, and more.
Mai: Jason, please tell us about where you’re from and where you grew up.
Jason: I’m from the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and I grew up in Honolulu’s Chinatown. My ancestors are from Zhongshan, China. I also lived in Northern California when I was two to three years old before moving back to Honolulu for K-12 schooling.
Mai: What made you want to become a human beat boxer?
Jason: All credit goes to God for his inspiration, image, and guidance.
Mai: Who is your musical influence?
Jason: The late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. At the age of four I vocally imitated Michael Jackson song “Bad.” I wanted to play the song “Bad” even though I didn’t have the record or single. I recorded myself on an audio cassette tape scatting the melody of the rhythm while simultaneously doing an inward k snare (to generate a pulse to the rhythm) with my tongue (my first beatbox technique) and I sang the chorus simultaneously at the same time. I’d hit playback as though to hear the actual record. That was back in 1987.
Mai: When did you start performing?
Jason: I’m a late bloom performer and I didn’t start performing the beatbox until my first semester back at Kapiolani Community College (KCC) in fall 2004. I was 21 going on 22 then.
Growing up in Honolulu I didn’t notice any local artist that beatboxed as his or her main thing, and so I didn’t know such a thing as beatboxing could be performed. Looking back in time in 1997 my high school classmate Jess Navarrete overheard me beatboxing in class and at that time I still didn’t know of the term “beatbox.” He thought I was a radio and due to his reaction it dawned on me for the first time that beatboxing is something unique.
Then in 2003 I saw an Asian American vocal percussionist by the name of Elaine Chao on television, and she performed the beatbox on an episode for the Showtime at the Apollo. She inspired me to entertain the thought of performing the beatbox. I then transitioned from judo to going back to college to beatboxing.
Mai: What kind of transitions did you go through?
Jason: By early 2004 I decided to quit judo after an automobile accident and go back to college to take care of unfinished business. Prior to that I dreaded school and I struggled all throughout my academic career from K-12 to my early college semesters. However, after my success with judo during my break I felt determined to overcome something I was weak in, and that meant reentering the academic arena. Then during my first semester back I also began to perform beatboxing at open mics while earning my first academic 4.0 grade point average. Each year I had a specific goal with beatboxing, and I would go back to the drawing board to map out a blueprint.
I also explored HawaiiSlam’s First Thursdays poetry slam scene and that was my first home as a beatboxer. Continuing to pursue my academic career while beatboxing on the side I graduated from KCC as a first generation college student by fall 2007 in Liberal Arts. It was quite exciting to realize that I’ve accomplished something I didn’t think I could finish.
Mai: What did you do after graduating from KCC?
Jason: During that final semester at KCC I co-enrolled in the MELE program as a Music Business major at Honolulu Community College (HCC) in partnership with Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business (CEMB). That is an academic program I had dreamed of enrolling in for a long time and that was the first semester that program was offered.
Then in late 2008 I re-accepted Jesus Christ into my life. That was when I knew I had a bigger purpose in life and had found true meaning for my existence. By that time I’ve also established a following among some from the American Sign Language (ASL) and deaf community. I want to thank Dana, Annie, Matthew, and more for their support!
Mai: Takes us through one of your typical days.
Jason: I live each day atypically. I love the behind-the-scenes process (prayer, bookings, press, communicate goals, practice, songwriting & composing, etc.) as well as performing. I teach beatboxing at workshops, reach out to communities, and visit schools. I also perform on the Music With A Message® tour with the non-profit organization American Lung Association of Hawaii. I want to thank my musician friend Shayla Kaai for referencing me, because the message is close to my heart.
I also want to thank Debbie Odo, the 808 Breakers, Jalee Fuselier, Chris Gilbert, and more for their support as well!
Mai: What favorite artist of yours would you love to perform with?
Jason: I have a show coming up with Junior Kekuewa Jr., and I look forward to that. I’m also currently in talks to collaborate with some breakdancers. I enjoy performing with slack key guitaristMakana. If he were still alive, Michael Jackson. MC Jin, without a doubt. Bobby McFerrin, because of his spontaneous improvisational vocal genius. Japan’s human beatbox Afra. The Far East Movement (FM) would be fun to jam with too. I also like Ne-Yo’s music. I’d love to perform with Ahn Trio. I’d love to jam with Michael Winslow. I’m open to collaboration.
Mai: What are your favorite activities to do when you’re not performing?
Jason: I love to read! I also love to hike and spend time with friends. I’d love to do more travel.
Mai: I hear that the people of Hawaii have a completely different culture there. Can you explain in detail what kind of culture it is and how it contrasts/compares to the mainland culture?
Jason: From my perspective I think the funkiest culture out there today is the online culture, because of the online dynamics that exist in the digital landscape. It’s a different animal to the dynamics of the offline world. I also think it’s a wonderful way to communicate across the globe with others, and thanks to the online world I was able to find resources on beatboxing. Speaking of the Hawaii culture in contrast to the mainland culture, there are differences, but there are more similarities than differences in my opinion. Mainlanders often say to me that Hawaii people are really nice, but then again there are mainlanders who are really nice as well.
Mai: How did you come about starting your human beat box workshops and what do they entail?
Jason: Since early 2009 I intended to take action about a lack of a Hawaii beatbox community, because throughout the other parts of the globe beatboxing is HUGE! It’s something I was passionate about since 2004, but I didn’t have the tools to go about it then. I knew from HawaiiSlam’s example that having a community of an art form is possible. I then allowed myself a minimum of five years to see where beatboxing could potentially go.
Then later 2009 I was invited by the Word of Life Christian Center to perform for an Emerge event at the Diverse Art Center. That was during the time I bumped into my then to be clothing sponsorFreelance Clothing Worldwide for a second time, and I met Niki Kealoha of Diverse Art Center. I took note of the classes offered there and it had hit me.
So the start of 2010 was when I began to facilitate human beatbox workshops formally at the Diverse Art Center. There were naysayers as well as supporters prior to the start of it. It entailed a vision, manpower, consistency, and follow through to make it happen. In the first two months I had about 21 unique beatbox class students, which was unheard of in Hawaii. I would say about four or less are regulars. It takes a lot of work to spark a real interest for it since it’s not as known of an art form in Hawaii. I continue to keep the faith.
Mai: How did you feel about opening up for America’s Best Dance Crew Season 3 winners Quest Crew?
Jason: It felt good since that show took place at the auditorium of my alma mater McKinley High School, and it’s awesome that people from that show still approach me about it. What’s rad is that they recognized that I did a beatbox rendition of Far East Movement hit Girls On The Dance Floor. I did that to tie it in with Quest Crew since they appeared in the FM Dance Like Michael Jackson music video produced by Wong Fu Productions. I had met members of FM and Wong Fu Productions last year at the International Secret Agents (ISA) concerts in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Later that same year I opened for the Jabbawockeez and Michael Winslow. Opening for Michael Winslow was my biggest show to date, because he is also highly regarded in the human beatbox community.
Mai: How was your experience at ISA?
Jason: Both ISA San Francisco 09 and ISA Los Angeles 09 were an amazing experience. One of the coolest parts was meeting MC Jin at ISA SF. ISA was a concert experience I’ve not experienced before. The fans in the mainland are very supportive of their favorite artists and acts. It’s awe-inspiring.
Mai: Who is your biggest influence in your life?
Jason: My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Mai: Rice or noodles?
Jason: Rice for the win.
Mai: What are your future plans?
Jason: Wherever God takes me I’ll flow. I’d love to write a book. Speaking of books I am currently in talks about booking an event for as far ahead as November 2010, but I have to continue to work hard since I know I still have obstacles as an artist. There are big opportunities coming, but it’s way early at the moment for me to say. Regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen I’ll continue to work hard to follow my passion. Thank you Maimounah and AMIN-Asian Media Internet News for this interview.
Visit Jason at Jason Tom and on Facebook
Check out Jason performing live at the World of Life Talent Show