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Beatboxing Bruins voices goal to create community for present, future beatboxers

(Left to right) USC student Justin Lou and UCLA students Benjamin Greenstein and Sparsh Vashist grip microphones surrounded by electric blue and yellow illustrations. All students at the time, Maxwell Tsao, Greenstein and Vashist established the organization this past winter quarter. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Tsao. Photo illustration by Nikole Liang/Daily Bruin)

By Lex Wang

Oct. 14, 2023 5:29 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article’s photo caption misidentified Justin Lou.

This post was updated Oct. 16 at 6:51 p.m.

The Beatboxing Bruins members are marching to the beat of their own drum.

Having had its first meeting of the academic year Thursday, the only student organization at UCLA centered around beatboxing – an art form that manipulates vocal sounds to imitate musical instruments – will continue to serve as a hub for beatboxers to practice and showcase their craft. For Donovan Southall, the secretary-treasurer of Beatboxing Bruins, fostering the presence of the beatboxing community on campus is particularly crucial since the art can be more of a niche interest, making it difficult to find others with the same passion.

“Throughout high school, I was never in any sort of beatboxing community because there wasn’t really anyone that beatboxed at my school,” said Southall, a second-year chemistry student. “It’s really good for a lot of people who are in the same position as me. … Now we get to UCLA and we can find that community.”

Founded by current president Maxwell Tsao, vice president Sparsh Vashist and alumnus Benjamin Greenstein, Beatboxing Bruins was established this past winter quarter after the three accidentally discovered each other’s talents during an open mic event, Tsao said. When the trio first got together, they created music simply for fun and not as an organized club, said Vashist, a third-year astrophysics student.

Eventually, once the founders realized other beatboxers at UCLA may lack the opportunity or space to practice, they laid the groundwork for a more formal setting to beatbox, said Tsao, a fourth-year computer science and economics student. Beatboxing Bruins now holds workshops that introduce beginners to the rudimentary principles of the art – including basic percussion – and jam sessions around the Covel Commons piano, where more advanced sounds can be learned and experimented with, Tsao added.

[Related: Yukai Daiko drums up cheer and culture through taiko community]

In the past, the organization has hosted performances with either solo, duo or group routines, which they hope to continue on a quarterly basis this year, Tsao said. Southall said his favorite memories with Beatboxing Bruins have been participating in these performances, which have featured famous guests from the industry such as the California beatboxing champion and the former American beatboxing champion.

“It was great to see not only my fellow beatboxers performing. … It was cool to hear the higher-level beatboxers,” Southall said. “It was really special to … have people who are interested in beatboxing, people who are maybe in a cappella come, but also to have people who are not in those communities also come and hear us perform.”

Unlike other musicians, beatboxers carry the instrument they use – their distinctive voice – wherever they go, Vashist said. Those who practice beatboxing can explore a wide array of sounds and ultimately create something new through these sounds they make, Southall said. At its core, beatboxing exists as an expression of individuality and the means by which the organization pays homage to its roots in hip-hop culture, Tsao said.

“You have so much freedom with the sounds that you can make,” Southall said. “You’re only limited by your creativity when it comes to beatboxing.”

However, the vocal nature of the craft, meaning not being able to hide behind an instrument, can create a certain vulnerability, Tsao said. The art can come across as intimidating for those just starting out, who will sometimes attempt it once before assuming they should give up, Tsao said. But despite how daunting beatboxing may feel, the body will continuously provide physical feedback on what’s being done during the process, he said, allowing individuals to feel closely connected to the music being generated.

[Related: How dance team ROOT[D branches out while staying true to South Asian roots]

Being a relatively new and small organization, Beatboxing Bruins has run into past difficulties with promotion, Tsao said, in large part because it can be difficult to reach everyone who has an interest across such a large campus. But attendance of around 75 to 100 people at the first performance they held proved to be a reminder to themselves that interest exists around UCLA, Vashist said.

“The only way to overcome it (challenge) is with persistence,” Tsao said. “Whether that’s running your own funding or reaching out to everyone you know and putting up posters by yourself all over campus, it’s something you need to put your passion into the art form to get it done.”

Moving forward, Beatboxing Bruins is looking to planning an array of events, Tsao said. One may be an upcoming beatboxing battle, in which people on each side of the competition will alternate and perform back and forth, or they may host a jam with the University of Southern California, Tsao added. As the group continues to expand, Tsao said the club’s main goal is to establish itself as a tight-knit community that stays intact for future generations of beatboxers.

“I want to have beatbox culture continue on throughout the years at UCLA the same way dance culture or a cappella culture has grown at UCLA,” Tsao said. “Even if I’m not here or eventually Donovan or Sparsh aren’t here, we’ll still have the community there – a space where beatboxers can gather and to showcase and give what they want to have.”

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Lex Wang | Editor in chief
Wang is the 2024-2025 editor in chief. She was previously the 2023-2024 Enterprise editor and the 2022-2023 Opinion editor. She is Arts and Quad staff and also contributes to Copy, News, Sports on the men's volleyball beat, Design, Photo and Video.
Wang is the 2024-2025 editor in chief. She was previously the 2023-2024 Enterprise editor and the 2022-2023 Opinion editor. She is Arts and Quad staff and also contributes to Copy, News, Sports on the men's volleyball beat, Design, Photo and Video.
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