Beatboxing in Baltasound

As part of Shetland’s Screenplay annual film festival last week there was something really different to experience at the Baltasound Hall. It’s not every day a Beatboxer comes to Unst, not only that but to perform a unique live vocal score. This was to accompany well known 1929 silent film by Scottish documentary film maker John Grierson called ‘The Drifters’. Beatboxing is the art creating music with voice and mouth and it’s a musical style usually associated with hip-hop.

It was pleasing to see the sizeable crowd of all ages that came along not only from Unst but from other North Isles to see and listen to London’s Jason Singh, composer and Beatboxer. He let us know that this was the very first night of their Scottish tour ‘Following the Fleet’ supported by National Lottery through Creative Scotland and also by Film Hub Scotland. Jason also let us know that he had spent four years developing the score for the film and was asked to do this by the British Film Institute. It was interesting to find out that prior to this he had had very little knowledge about the fishing industry, Jason said he felt it was fitting with the important historical role that Unst played in the herring fishing industry in that as the tour was beginning in the isle.

Then on to the performance, it really was incredible to think that every single sound that we heard was made with Jason’s voice. The film itself told the story of the North Sea herring fishing. What really struck me was the film depicted how incredibly hard   fishermen’s lives were and the dangers faced every day. In one scene it showed how they hauled the nets on board over a period of eight hours with their bare hands. Jason’s score really helped bring this to life, it was dramatic, intense and moving. Also mesmerising was the way in which he was constantly on the go the whole performance and moved in time to the score.      

After the show there was a short question and answer session with Jason.  We discovered that as part of the tour he will be delivering workshops to teach Beatboxing skills and techniques to secondary school pupils at each venue. The next day Jason was heading to the Baltasound Junior High School where I heard later he had gone down an absolute storm with the young folk there, pardon the pun.   

Following Jason’s performance there was a showing of a local film called Havera: The Story of an Island by J.J. Jamieson. This told the story of a Shetland island with a beautiful name and is based on a book by Laughton Johnson included poetry by Christine de Luca and music by Pauline Wiseman. It combined memories and stories of people who have family connections to the island. An interesting film, it was also sad and poignant as it told the story how the island had become depopulated.          

With the expense of travelling to Lerwick for gigs and performances and the time it takes too, it is always a really appreciated in the North Isles when events come to us. It is especially enjoyable when you have the opportunity to experience something different together with your island community. Thanks to Screenplay for organising this special performance and for making the long trip up north, it’s a night that I won’t forget for all the right reasons.