As the sultanate gets more and more connected with the global community there are cultural trends or movements that inevitably land on our shores and though most may be fleeting, some are here to stay, albeit in pockets of subculture.
The beatboxing subculture for instance is still in its infancy in Brunei, but it is one of the fastest-growing music cultures in the world, cementing its place in mainstream culture as a genre of music on its own.
A far cry from its origins in New York in the 1970s and 1980s, amidst the rise of the hip hop culture.
“When I started getting into beatboxing in 2014, there wasn’t any sort of beatbox community in Brunei (and) even if it did exist, it was very small,” said Wafi Rusli, a local beatboxer who is also a vocalist and an actor.
Building the Bruneian beatbox community
Having begun his beatbox journey, he yearned for that community, to be able to share and practice this new passion among like-minded individuals.
Ultimately, however, the goal was to evolve, get better and eventually enter the world stage.
To achieve this, he realised that there was a need to create a platform for the Bruneian beatbox movement which is why in 2018, Wafi founded the Brunei Beatbox Unity (BBU).
The main objective was to suss out other potential beatboxers in Brunei and establish an environment for healthy competition among the artistes, in an effort to reflect the beatbox movement that is occurring globally.
“The end goal is to take these local beatboxers to battle abroad and represent Brunei (because) these battles are happening all over the world, and they are trending,” said the 30-year-old.
He noted how beatbox has evolved over the decades, paving the way for battles as beatboxing progressed from mere emulation of percussions to accompany singers and rappers, to creating “complex beat patterns”, that can accommodate a host of different music genres outside of hip hop.
BBU eventually organised the first couple of beatbox battles ever to be held in Brunei, namely the Khatulistiwa Beatbox Championship in July 2019 and the Khatulistiwa Beatbox Battle in December of the same year.
Entering the international beatbox arena
True to his intentions, Wafi managed to bring a Bruneian beatboxer to the international arena, the winner of the Khatulistiwa Beatbox Championship 2019; Muhammad Nur Fadhlin Noralimin, or better known for his stage name Aboy.
The main prize was a flight ticket to Indonesia, to take part in the Werewolf Beatbox Championship 2019 (WBXC 2019), which at the point was one of the biggest beatbox events in Southeast Asia with participants hailing from 11 countries including the USA, Germany, Switzerland and Russia.
The two ended up competing together dubbing themselves ‘Budiman’ and managing to qualify for the top eight of the tag team category, all the while hoping to take advantage of the international platform to cast a spotlight on Bruneian talents and capabilities.
“Most of the beatboxers we met at the WBXC 2019 didn’t even know where Brunei was and to represent Brunei at an international level was such a big honour, but we kind of wished that more of our Bruneian beatboxers were with us to compete,” added Wafi.
Though younger in age compared to Wafi, Aboy had more beatboxing experience under his belt, with eight years compared to Wafi’s six.
For Aboy, now a 22-year-old college student, the experience was nerve-wracking, yet the opportunity to meet fellow beatboxers from around the globe, being judged following international beatbox parameters and ultimately, the exposure, was a huge reward.
“Of course I was nervous at first, but then, when I thought about the fact I was representing Brunei, I wanted to become better, to make my country proud and at the same time, I also wanted to show my culture, Brunei’s culture, in beatbox terms,” explained Aboy.
Turning the beat around
By participating and observing beatbox battles in other countries, Wafi asserted the high demand beatbox has, especially in the entertainment sphere noting how a shift has occurred in a lot of Bruneians’ perception of the genre.
The first beatbox battle organised by the BBU which was held at the Youth Centre at the capital garnered a couple of hundreds of supporters, according to the self-made artiste, cheering from their seats, the stands and even the aisles.
“People of different ages came to enjoy the performance, whether they were our age or even young kids (beatboxing) became a great form of entertainment and we created a lot of traffic, so there is a great demand there,” he explained.
In light of this shift in reception, and in order to keep the culture sustainable Wafi is capitalising on the talents of the BBU community through the talent and project management company, Showtime Creative Entertainment Services, which he co-founded with his business partner.
“It’s killing two birds with one stone, where one, it helps expose more of the beatbox community to the general public and second, it’s a means to ensure that these individuals are compensated for their talents,” he explained.
Looking ahead, Wafi believes that there is still much to be done to grow the local beatbox community, and part and parcel of that is by discovering new up-and-comers through BBU events.
“Part of the growing pains is getting all of these beatboxers together and fostering their skills for stage,” Wafi went on to say.
At the end of the day, however, the things that he has done for the community are all about nurturing the beatbox spirit, and it comes from the love of performance and the want to see the local music culture be diverse and thrive.
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN