Schlomo: 'I was typing lonely hearts adverts when Bjork called'
He got his big break with the Icelandic genius and is now offering other acts the chance to get on stage with him, all in aid of charity
A former municipal building in Antrim on a Monday night in December might not be where you'd expect to find a world champion 'looping' artist who callss himself "the Human Geekbox". But Shlomo – who plays the town's Old Courthouse next week – is anything but predictable.
The prolific performer has already racked up gigs in Belfast and Portrush, and returns to Northern Ireland as part of Antrim's new 4 Corners Music Festival, presented by MADD Music. His act is a tricky one to pin down, comprising beatboxing, storytelling, audience interaction and more.
"It's a one-man music mash-up," he explains. "Unless you hate music, you'll love this show."
Each night on the tour, Shlomo has been inviting a local musician to join him on stage for a live jam, the results of which will be released as individual singles and a 15-track album in aid of War Child, which supports the innocent victims of war. The plan is to co-write, perform and release a new song in a day in each town, including Antrim.
"I got a great response from people in Northern Ireland," says Shlomo. "I've got a chap called Malojian signed up, who my Northern Irish friends tell me is a bit of a legend."
Teamwork is a key element of Shlomo's act, and Malojian should feel privileged to join a list of past collaborators that includes Björk, Damon Albarn of Blur, The Specials, folk singer Martha Wainwright and comedy star Bill Bailey.
"Being asked to record with Bjork was a big shock, as it was my first major break," recalls Shlomo of participating in the Icelandic chanteuse's all-vocal song, Oceania, in 2004.
"I was working in a call centre, typing out lonely hearts ads, when I got a voicemail from her asking me to come to London to record my beats.
"After that, I got really inspired about my music and took it a lot more seriously, and since then, I've got to work with amazing people like Jarvis [Cocker], Imogen Heap and the Mighty Boosh. I have a short attention span, so working with other people is a great way to keep my mind focused."
Shlomo – full name Simon Shlomo Kahn – started making vocal music as a child. He says he was drawn to it "instinctively. I think music is probably as old as speech, if not older," he says. "If you bang on a tree and it sounds good, you can't help but do it again. And if you hear someone banging out some rhythms, you can't help but dance. And so, music is born."
His style started to take shape in 2002 when he began imitating Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z beats, but after working with Björk, he felt emboldened to create his own songs: "I saw a clip online of someone beatboxing through a looper, so I went and bought a cheap loop pedal and never looked back. I only entered the looping championships for a laugh but ended up world champion. It felt amazing."
He's played Glastonbury, has written a concerto for beatboxer and orchestra and holds the record for the world's largest beatbox ensemble.
It's some vindication for the gangly 30-year-old from Buckinghamshire, who feels that musical training for young people in the UK has often left a lot to be desired.
"I used to be so frustrated with the uninspiring excuse for music education in this country, but things are improving now," he says. He works with the Musical Futures Foundation to promote community music projects.
"They really listen to what the kids want to learn, and use modern technology to get kids excited and inspired," he says.
As for Northern Ireland he remains positive and upbeat that kids here are on the right track. "It sounds difficult indeed, but almost all the people I've met from Northern Ireland have been generous, warm and tolerant," Shlomo says. "The education system must be doing something right!"
Schlomo plays the Old Courthouse, Antrim, on Monday. For details, visit www.antrim.gov.uk/oldcourthouse.