A beat box of tricks
Catch a talented young beat boxer bring out his vocal tools at a solo gig this evening
The pigeonhole performance area at Bonobo — a bar in Bandra that also hosts gigs — was full beyond capacity. People had put their drinks down, waiting in anticipation to stomp their feet to Voctronica, a city-based a capella and beat-boxing outfit. "What's the deal?" we remember wondering. "Are these guys that good?" we asked ourselves. But it didn't take long for this befuddlement to get cleared. For, as soon as the six-member act started their set, the high-energy performance with impeccable synergy brought the house down to such an extent that we were left gaping in awe at their proficiency.
But the member of the unit who stood out for us was also its youngest. Raj Verma was barely 20 years old when he had the audience literally dancing to his tunes at this gig. Here was a prodigiously talented beat boxer who held the set together like glue while the others took centre stage, and then burst into his own when the time came for him to perform solo, pulling off such incredible musical feats using only the human anatomy that it beggared belief.
That was three years ago. In the intervening period, Voctronica has cemented its place as easily the city's most recognisable all-vocals outfit. But late last year, Verma parted ways with the group. "The reason is that all the other band members are based in Bombay and I'm the only one who's from Hyderabad. So there was constant back and forth. And at one point I just got tired of it and felt that I wanted some time for myself to stay home and figure out my own scene," he tells us over the phone while taking a train from the Telangana capital to Mumbai, where he will perform a set tonight as Yung.Raj.
Verma learns the ropes as a child with his rapper friend
The solo moniker is a clever one, really, since it puns on Yamraj — the messenger of death — while also reflecting how young Verma still is. But this lack of years is understandable given the fact that he started learning his craft ridiculously early. "I think I was 13 when I saw a beat boxer on TV and was intrigued. I was like, 'Damn, how's he doing that with his mouth?' I had never seen anything like it. And I remember he mentioned that you can go to humanbeatbox.com and learn the same thing. So, since I had a steady Internet connection at home, I looked it up and tried to teach myself. It sounded really bad the first one or two months, though, and everyone around me told me to stop. But as I just kept going at it, it kind of came through," he says, adding that back then, he was also in touch with a friend who was a rapper, and since the hip-hop scene is tightly knit with rap and beat boxing, he learnt a lot while accompanying his pal for gigs and beat boxing in the background.
Eventually, to cut a long story short, he joined a music school in Chennai where learning piano and theory helped him hone his craft further. Then Voctronica happened. And now, after releasing his first solo EP early this year, his aim is to create a bank of 50 finished tracks by the end of 2018. But what after that? What's your long-term plan, we ask Verma, to which he replies, "A lot of the music I listen to comes from Los Angeles and the beat scene over there. So that's where my whole work scenario is geared towards. I have played so many tracks by now that I want to keep working on it and play at more festivals in India, and hopefully, abroad at some point. But my goal right now, basically, is to keep churning out tunes."
ON Tonight, 9 pm onwards
AT Levi's Lounge, Mathuradas Mill Compound, Lower Parel.
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