An oral history of the Jordanian beatboxing scene

Thaer beatbox elephant3
Thaer the Beatbox Elephant remembers how it all started for him, as well as everything that has happened in the Jordanian hip-hop scene since. (Photo: handout from Thaer Fahmawi)
Thaer the Beatbox Elephant may be one of the oldest in the Amman’s hip-hop scene now, but he still remembers when Tareq Abu Kweik first gave him his nickname early in his career: “You are like an elephant, man. You are calm, nobody expects you to be hype, but when you get onstage it is an explosion.” اضافة اعلان

Abu Kweik is better known now by his rap moniker “El Far3i”, as well as for his work with famous bands El-Morabba3 and 47 Soul, but some 20 years ago, he and Thaer were two leading members of Jordan’s fledgling hip-hop community, a small but passionate group of beatboxers, poppers, breakers, rappers, DJs and graffiti artists.

(Photo: handout from Thaer Fahmawi)

Thaer is one of the few people who remembers how it all started in Amman, some two decades ago, and is still here to talk about it; others moved, got married or lost interest, but he still performs in a variety of genres, especially beatboxing, and also works as a promoter. He is one of the few Jordanians who has managed to make a living as a hip-hop performer, and is the official emcee for brands including Red Bull and Jameson whiskey in Jordan.

True to his nickname, Thaer the Beatbox Elephant remembers how it all started for him, as well as everything that has happened in the Jordanian hip-hop scene since. He was already a precociously gifted child, familiar with classic Arabic music like Fayrouz and Umm Kulthum thanks to his mom’s influence, when his older cousin moved back to Jordan from the US and changed his life with a Nokia Engage cell phone packed with music by Snoop Dogg, Tupac, NWA, and other classic 90s rap.

(Photo: handout from Thaer Fahmawi)

His cousin also brought back a DVD of a performance from the now-legendary Up in Smoke tour, headlined by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, and packed with performances by rappers now considered among the most influential of all time.

When asked if he remembers who was on it, Thaer responded animatedly, as if he were 7 years old again, seeing the DVD for the first time, bearing witness to something deeply exciting and clearly meant for an older audience: “I saw it at a sleepover – there was Snoop Doggy Dog of course, Eminem, Ice Cube, Nate Dogg – man come on, Nate Dogg!”

Soon after, he also discovered an artist not normally associated with hip-hop: Michael Jackson. He loved the dancing so much that he joined what was most likely Jordan’s first breakdancing crew, and then one day at practice, while a dancer named Zuka was choreographing a dance to a Justin Timberlake and Timbaland song, he noticed a musical style he had never heard before – the dancers in the video were breaking it down to the rhythms of a beatboxer, a musician who makes drum, bass and other sounds using only his mouth.

Thaer was mesmerized, playing the beatboxing section on loop for four hours straight, and when the other dancers came back from their lunch break, he had learned to imitate the beatboxer from the video. From that day on, he was beatboxing every day, working on his craft with a graffiti writer named Aro who was also teaching himself to beatbox.

(Photo: handout from Thaer Fahmawi)

At that point, a number of individuals who had independently started to develop a passion for hip-hop started to coalesce into a crew.  Thaer started to rattle off names: “Let’s see, there was Dan Drill,  Iraqi producer and rapper, and a guy named Amr Al-Taher who rapped under the name Al-Mukhtar – he was originally Palestinian but was born somewhere else. Our crew was dancing every day, and there were these four or five rappers, and some producers, and me and Aro were beatboxing.”

Dan Drill, Amr Al-Taher and MC Maze, he said, came up with the idea that all these artists who were already coming together for variety-show style performances to showcase all their different passions should form a unified crew. That crew came to be called 962 Street, and as Thaer puts it, “we had all the elements of hip-hop in one crew – we were the first hip-hop movement in Jordan”.

The 962 Street hip-hop collective started performing at a weekly Friday event called Suq Jara in Amman in 2008, and that is what really sparked Jordan’s enduring beatbox scene. Thaer explained: “This homie Abood Al-Adham was there helping his dad sell honey or something, and he asked to learn how to beatbox – he started to learn from my partner Aro.”

Abood turned out to be extraordinarily passionate, and along with Thaer, Aro, and a guy named Abdallah Masri who beatboxed alongside a rapper named Bilal Shuli and a producer named Al-Basha, developed a scene of about 16 beatboxers and held Jordan’s first beatboxing competition, called “The Beastbox”, around 2010.

While most of the first 16 artists who competed in The Beastbox do not perform any more, they laid the foundation for others to follow them, and in 2014 Abood started the annual Jordanian beatboxing championship, “The King of the Beat”. In 2018, Jordanian beatboxer Fahed Al-Huwayan, one of the scene’s earliest competitors dating all the way back to Beastbox, became the first Arab competitor in the international beatboxing championships.

Thaer was adamant about praising Abood for his efforts to build and grow the community, stating: “Abood was going crazy with it, networking, doing competitions – all on his own budget. I never said no to any event he put on – I always showed up for the community.”

Nowadays, the scene has grown, and it has also changed. Abood, Fahed, Aro, and many others have left the country, whether for work, study, or marriage, but new names emerged. Thaer booked the first show in Jordan for Syrian rapper Bu Kulthoum and Qatari beatbox champion Ahmad Abu-Zaid at the Rainbow theater during their stint in Amman, and also spoke about witnessing the rise of local acts like Illiam and The Synaptik, both Palestinian rappers who made their names in Jordan before starting to achieve more international success.

He says that nowadays the most active rapper in Amman is Msallam, but that there are more beatboxers than anything else – he estimates nearly 85 from Aqaba all the way to Mafraq, including a few women.

Thaer himself is now mainly a promoter, working with big brands and also running his own events under his rapper name, “Rastafandy”, a portmanteau of “Rastafarian” and “Afandi”, which is an Egyptian slang term meaning “boss”. He is throwing a big New Year’s Eve party at the Prime Hotel in Shmeisani, charging JD50 for an open bar dance party featuring DJ Buka, his old DJ since the breakdancing days, saying: “If you see my name on an event, you will see me beatboxing for sure.”

He calls himself one of the most complete hip-hop acts in the Arab world, citing his ability to DJ, rap, dance, beatbox, and even sing in classical Arabic style. In addition to all of that, he is also a historian, holding the knowledge of how a cell phone full of Tupac tracks, a bootleg Snoop Dogg DVD and the combined passion of a few free spirits gave rise to a hip-hop community that has produced some of the best Arab rappers and beatboxers in the world.

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