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Baltimore beatboxer Shodekeh reads the likes of 'The Art of War'

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Sunday, August 15, 2010



The Baltimore beatboxer Shodekeh spends his days mimicking sounds with his voice, coaxing all manner of drumbeats, sandpaper scrapings, didgeridoo warblings and a seemingly impossible variety of percussive rhythms from his vocal cords.

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Reading is his sanctuary.

"There's a very important silent quality to it," he says.

Among his favorite books are that 6th-century B.C. bestseller "The Art of War," by Sun Tzu, and the more recent "The 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers. Being a musician is no easy thing, not in this economy, not ever. Shodekeh has armed himself with survival strategies.

For instance, he says, one of the 48 laws of power reads: Despise the free lunch.

The real-life application: "One day this person approached me and said, 'I bought you lunch; would you like to have it?' " Sure, said Shodekeh, forgetting the law.

"Okay, now I need a favor," said the lunch lady. "Can you beatbox 'Happy Birthday' for me?"

Then there are the books that remind him of the magic in life. Such as "Too Marvelous for Words," James Lester's biography of jazz pianist Art Tatum. Shodekeh retrieves his copy so he can summarize his favorite passages. "His hearing was so exact he could listen to a coin drop and tell which coin it was," says Shodekeh. "He could tell the dominant note in a flushing toilet."

Kind of like a beatboxer being able to imitate a thunderstorm? Maybe, he says. At least, he can dream up the similarities . . . let his thoughts wander as he flips the page . . .

"If there was ever a waking life experience that's akin to the state of dreaming, it would be reading," he says. "Reading, to me, is just as powerful as being in an enormously chaotic, beautiful, amazing dream. . . . Your imagination is going at full throttle."

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