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Jason Tom (譚志豪), Hawaiʻi's Human Beatbox

Rhythm And Moves

June 9, 2015 at 07:20PM

Featured in the Star Advertiser Today Section, "Rhythm And Moves."


Jason Tom says beatboxing improves his cardio, lungs and strength. “When I beatbox I’m using my whole entire body. … It can be an interesting way to train.”

Rhythm And Moves

For Chinatown’s Jason Tom, beatboxing is a whole-body workout
By Nina Wu


Ask Jason Tom what he does for a workout and it’s not your typical routine of running or weightlifting.

Tom, 32, is a professional beatboxer. He already has a thin frame, but he swears the beatboxing — a form of vocal percussion — works his core and keeps him toned throughout the year.

“If I were to break it down, singing uses the diaphragm,” said Tom. “So when I practice, I’m taking deep breaths with my diaphragm, and when I’m using my diaphragm, I’m using my core.”

JASON TOM

» Age: 32

» Hometown: Chinatown arts district

» Education: McKinley High School, Kapiolani Community College, Beijing Foreign Studies University

» Workout routine: Beatboxing about 40 hours a week, plus dancing, walking

» Inspirations: The late music instructor Lina Doo, Jake Shimabukuro, Jody Kamisato, MC Jin

» Favorite Song: “Singing in the Rain,” by Gene Kelly

» Signature beats: Tom-toms, high synths, wobbles

» Website: www.jasontom.com

Beatboxing is the art of producing drumbeats, rhythms and musical sounds using the mouth, lips, tongue and voice.

Tom has been beatboxing since the age of 4. He says that’s when he beatboxed Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and recorded it on audiocassette tape.

He learned by listening to music and watching others, studying such masters as Rahzel, Michael Winslow and Bobby McFerrin.

Born and raised in Honolulu, where his parents ran the former Ho Wah Chinese restaurant, Tom had to learn on his own because no one in his family had a musical background. Tom, who is of Hawaiian-Chinese descent, played ukulele in elementary school and tuba in intermediate school, but beatboxing was always his passion.

Born and raised in Honolulu, where his parents ran the former Ho Wah Chinese restaurant, Tom had to learn on his own because no one in his family had a musical background. Tom, who is of Hawaiian-Chinese descent, played ukulele in elementary school and tuba in intermediate school, but beatboxing was always his passion.

He was determined to make a living doing it, and so far it’s worked out, whether he’s teaching or performing, said Tom, who lives in Chinatown’s arts district.

“They say the tongue is the most used muscle,” he said. “So if I show you a ‘snare,’ I hit it in different directions. Right, left, middle, back.”


Jason Tom ranks among best beatboxers in the world.

Three fundamental sounds of beatboxing include the kick drum (“B”), also known as the bass kick, according to Tom, the hi-hat (“t”) and classic snare drum (“pft”). Once those are mastered, beatboxers begin to develop more complex sounds as well as invent their own.

For Tom the world is a cornucopia of rhythm. Whereas others hear sirens or the beeping of a horn, Tom hears rhythms. He can pretty much imitate any sound. Besides English, he also speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, which helps him master new sounds.

While he beatboxes, Tom moves his hands and arms, as if he were conducting the beats. It’s something he learned from mentors in poetry performance. “It helps me hit those notes,” he said.

He also incorporates breakdance-style moves, many of which he learned from friends, into his routine. He can beatbox and dance at the same time, and says one influences the other. Dance includes aerobic moves with a lot of back-and-forth, plus getting down to spin alternatively on hands and feet.

As a child Tom played soccer, and in his teens he practiced judo. He didn’t stick with either sport, and says dance is his favorite way to relieve stress. He also walks a lot and takes the stairs whenever possible.

He swears beatboxing has improved his cardio, lungs and strength, important since he grew up with asthma. Sometimes he beatboxes while walking to develop breath control and stamina.

“You’re constantly moving,” he said. “When I beatbox I’m using my whole entire body. I don’t just use my mouth. My whole body is an extension of the instrument. … Since I am the music, it can be an interesting way to train.”

Tom, who performs regularly at local poetry slams, qualified for the Beatbox Battle World Championship, in Berlin at the end of May. Beatbox Battle Television, a multimedia network which organizes the competition every other year, ranked Tom one of the top 75 male professional beatboxers in the world.

Beatbox Battle’s jury committee nominated Tom to represent Hawaii, which is listed separately from the United States in the competition. Unfortunately, Tom did not make it to Berlin this year due to a family emergency, but is preparing for the next championship battle in 2018.

On average, Tom beatboxes 40 hours or more per week. He sometimes goes to Ala Moana Center, where he finds a place to sit and beatboxes for four hours straight. Kewalo Basin is another favorite spot — he gets inspiration from the sound of birds and waves. It’s where he’s created some new sounds, including an imitation of the birds.

For the next world competition, Tom says he’s going to increase his practice time to eight hours a day.

“I plan to prepare for it like I’m preparing for a marathon rather than a sprint,” he said.

As a founder of the Human Beatbox Academy, he’s been teaching at various schools throughout Oahu since 2006, and also offers lessons one-on-one. He performs at fundraisers and has been featured at TedxHonolulu as well as the Hawaii Book and Music Festival.

He swears beatboxing also has a positive effect on overall well-being.

“Music makes you happy,” he said. “If you become the music, that’s even more joy.”


Jason Tom recorded a beatbox version of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” when he was 4. Today he is ranked as one of the top 75 male professional beatboxers in the world.

 

 

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