National-champion beatboxer Vino Cuenca hopes to take his vocal skills to the international stage, whenever COVID-19 breaks long enough for that to happen.
The Surrey resident, 22, is the reigning Canadian champ, following his 2019 title win at Toronto’s The Rec Room last November, in a contest hosted by Beatbox Canada.
During the pandemic, such in-person competitions have pretty much been put on ice, including a world championship event in Europe where Cuenca had hoped to compete this past summer.
“I haven’t competed outside of North America before, so that would have been my first international competition,” lamented Cuenca, who lives in the Panorama area.
“It’s all up in the air, and nobody seems to know when Worlds will happen,” he added, “but I’ve been told that the next time they do, I’ll be qualified for it, so that’s exciting.”
For the uninitiated, beatboxing is a form of vocal percussion that involves the art of mimicking drum machines and other hip-hop sounds, using just a microphone.
Cuenca’s impressive skills have been honed since he was just nine years old, not long after his father showed him a compilation of viral videos.
“One was a guy from Japan and I was like, ‘What’s beatboxing?’ I thought, ‘That’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen and I need to learn how to do that immediately,’ as a nine-year-old.”
Later, as a teen, he began a deeper exploration to discover an art form beyond the “party trick” aspect of beatboxing, including a cappella groups and competitions in the Vancouver area. By 2016, he’d entered Beatbox Canada’s national event.
“The first time I ever submitted was also the first time I qualified for Canadian Champs,” Cuenca explained. “It happens just once a year in Toronto, so I submitted for four years straight and got in every time, as one of the 16 finalists. But the first two times, I got eliminated almost immediately, in the first round, but I kept practicing and coming back.”
That third year was a real motivator for Cuenca.
“I actually got second place, and that made realize, ‘OK, I might actually be able to win this thing,’” Cuenca recalled. “So for that whole year I really worked on all my stuff and tried to expand as much as I could and get as much practice in, and then yeah, I won the whole thing last year, in 2019, and it was such a surreal experience.”
Cuenca credits the recent rise of beatboxing to the Pitch Perfect movies and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are getting more into the competitive scene,” he said. “During the summer with the COVID situation and everyone kind of stuck at home, it seems more people are discovering beatboxing as this whole competitive art form, and it’s definitely getting bigger, especially in Canada. And that’s what I and some other people are trying to do, to foster that competitive side of it, in Vancouver. In Toronto, the hip-hop scene and beatboxing is a lot bigger there, and we’re trying to foster a bigger scene in Vancouver to hopefully have (the national championships) here one day.”
Last year, Cuenca helped organize and host a first Vancouver-area championship, and a second such event was held earlier this year, “just before COVID ruined everything.”
“To me, the most exciting part is getting more local people involved in (beatboxing), to create a community. That would mean the world to me,” he said. “There are people in Vancouver who are as competitive as me, but it’s not like you can just walk into the local community centre and find people are really into beatboxing,” he added with a laugh.
Big picture, Cuenca is still focused on sociology studies at UBC, with an eye on law school one day, to follow in his parents’ footsteps.
“Beatboxing is not something I’ve actively pursued as a career, but you know, there have been several occasions where I’ve been offered money to perform or teach it or lead workshops, things like that,” he said. “But it’s more of a side artistic passion of mine that I take very seriously and also something I’ve been able to monetize a little bit, which is nice.”