Thinking outside of the (beat) box
Jan Elf Czerwinski, from Gdansk Poland, is a truly colourful character whose foundations of artistic creativity can be found in his phenomenal beatboxing skills, which were recognised at local championships (2x Polish Beatbox Battle Loop Station Champion (2018, 2019), Top4 WBW Beatbox 2017 Solo). His music consists of his creations and personalised covers of famous tunes performed using only his vocals, which are inspired by various genres and usually shift through reggae, drum and bass, rock, and house. Jan is tirelessly eager to give his best to audiences all around the world. Vamp caught up with the star to find out more.
What exactly is beatboxing?
Beatboxing is the most personal instrument in the world. It is the one that you always have on you, right from your very first cry. Yet, it is also a foundation of exploration, finding what is possible and collectively reaching beyond.
Can you give us your background in a snapshot?
In a nutshell: Son of my wonderful parents Tadeusz and Ewa, of which both have an excellent taste in music and love to sing, but unfortunately, neither received a musical education. Friend of Czarek, who in 2006 showed me MTV Barrio 19 DVD with Faith SFXs beatboxing lessons which got me started. Apprentice of masters- Blady Kris (who in 2009 revolutionised the scene and brought me to my new family) and Hubert Jahdek Pyrgies (who is the person I look up to the most and am also honoured to recently be working with). A coworker of many beautiful people, from sound technicians, actors, screenwriters, singers, choir conductors, priests, DJs, dancers, and all others. A member of the Polish and global beatboxing family. Composer. Organiser. And finally, a master of the Polish Beatbox Battle loop station category of 2018 and 2019 and a happy human who can live his dream and spread what he received.
What kind of person would you describe yourself?
Oh, I don’t like to describe myself. Come and meet me!
How did you get into beatboxing? How old were you when you started?
I was born in 1992 in Gdansk, so that would make me 14 years old in 2006. From all the recordings of street arts found on MTV Barrio 19, beatboxing seemed like the obvious choice. I guess everyone dreams of becoming a superhero with a hidden superpower. I found mine in beatboxing. At first, I learned just a few basic sounds, and after three years and a few workshops, I was ready for my first concert. It was terrible.
So what was it like just going out on your own?
I always wanted to do it, so the choice was straightforward, but the way was not so. I have no musical education whatsoever, and I’m constantly struggling to overcome my lack of talent. I was lucky enough to meet a lot of wonderful people who helped me and have put a lot of work into making it happen. I worked on significantly reshaping myself in 2016 to become the Jan Elf I am now.
What steps did you take to build your career?
Until 2016 I don’t think I was very conscious as an artist. In 2012 I was playing with choirs and with my friends, who were the sons of a great jazz double bass player. Our band was called The Long Road, and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot playing collectively with them, but I was just a mode in the machine. In 2016 after receiving a loop station, I decided to become who i always wanted to be – an independent artist. I have spent endless hours in Red Roof Studio, and I was busking a lot. I then got into social media. I released a few recordings and began to perform on my own. But most of those who know me met me because of winning championships or just appearing in many places throughout all those years living and creating in Gdansk. I live in a fantastic city.
Was there a moment while performing when you felt like you really “made it”?
Whenever I’m playing music, whether it’s on the street, championships in Berlin, a Philharmonic hall, a tiny pub in the south of Poland or just a party with my friends, I think that I “made it”. Of course, I have a couple of goals that I intend to achieve and ones I already have, but I’m pleased with what I have every day. It’s not really my train of thought, so I’ll give you one achievement here- the premiere of my first theatre show with my music. My dad was so happy. Oh, and the one time I jammed with Jacob Collier. And the whole trip across the Balkans with the Immortal Onion band. Okay, that’s enough.
What are some of the ways you keep your voice and throat healthy?
Not beatboxing. Haha, it is pretty ironic because singing requires you to relax your voice, while beatbox sounds are really tight and come with stress. It isn’t easy to combine it healthily. Every voice is different. Listen to yourself. If it says that it’s enough, it’s enough. Try to strike a deal with it and get it back to working shape. I try to keep it fresh, moistened—Honey, ginger, sage. The voice loves it.
How important is social media to a beatboxer?
It all depends on what you are aiming for. Nowadays, if you want to get big, social media platforms are essential, and you can achieve great things there- look at Dharni. I feel like I’m somewhat old school in that regard, and I try to keep in touch with those who care about me and let them know what I’m up to. Will I create more content in the future? Follow me and find out!
What are some misconceptions people have about your career?
Public opinion can be really harsh. I’m lucky enough to have incredible people around me. But there is also such a thing as an opposing fanbase. The people that care about you because they just don’t want you to succeed. Ironically any action taken is helping. Recently Youtube changed the system of content evaluation to only likes. I don’t think that’s the right way. Negative voices are also vital. As a representative of Poland at international championships, like The Looping Masters in Berlin, the pressure was on me to perform. I gave my best, I had a lot of fun, and so did people in the audience, but I was not ready to compete with the world’s highest level attendees. People noticed that and gave feedback. I appreciate that they are pushing me to be better. Sometimes opinions might be valuable. Sometimes people don’t know what they are talking about. You can choose whether to take them into consideration or not. What matters, in the end, is your own work. That’s what my song “Purpose” is about.
What advice can you give to a young beatboxer who would like to have a career in beatboxing?
Get out there and meet the world. It is waiting for you! But also remember to plan your actions in the right way, and put enough work into making it happen. I believe in you!
What’s one thing that you know now that you wish you knew early on?
The sea level is being measured by a station on the Eastern coast of Spain. Oh, no, nothing in particular. I have no regrets, and I’m enjoying my journey just the way it is
You can follow Jan Elf on Facebook at www.facebook.com/elfjan