How beatboxing lifted one Syrian busker out of homelessness and depression
- 23-year-old Adam Alnajjar fled Syria in 2012 and ended up living in Openshaw, Manchester
- Experienced mental health problems and homelessness - but music always gave him hope
- Now performs under the name Madz
“The purpose for me is encouraging a new way of communication, transforming perspectives about the power of voice and changing the energy of the crowd.”
This musical expression of the body, called beatboxing, has pulled Adam Alnajjar from Syria out of emotional turmoil time and again.
The 23-year-old escaped the life-threatening chaos of civil war together with his father in a hurried flight from Damascus to London in 2012.
From there, they eventually ended up in a house in Openshaw, where they were granted refugee status.
Adam, who is known under his artist name ‘Madz’, first learned about beatboxing back in Damascus where some friends would make beatbox sounds without knowing what it was called. In the UK, he started watching more YouTube videos and taught himself.
One time when he and his father went shopping in Manchester, they saw a beatboxer performing on Market Street.
Adam approached him. They started chatting and the performer passed him the mic.
“This was my first beatbox performance in front of a crowd. It was such a good feeling. It seemed like the crowd really liked what they saw. That feeling made me want to do it again,” said Adam.
He kept practicing and started busking on the streets. Adam remembers his first solo performance, still feeling nervous and too embarrassed to look at the crowd. At the end of the day he had made £8. “I wasn’t that good at this time and really young,” he said. His performances improved and £8 became suddenly £150 a day.
Despite his success on the streets, Adam faced some serious mental health issues at that time. He not only had to process things happening in Syria but also get used to living full time with his dad. In Syria, they would only see each other once or twice a month because Adam lived with his grandparents in Damascus.
Soon, tension built up between them, resulting in fights and violent disputes until he ended up in foster care for a few months.
On top of that, he struggled in school communicating in English and dealing with bullies. As a result, he became apathetic and mentally fragile.
Adam said: “I was suppressing a lot of crazy shit happening. I didn't care about anything. I didn’t care if I would get suspended or get into fights. Beatboxing helped me in these times a lot. If I didn’t have it, I think I would be in prison or something.”
He remembers that people waited for him to turn 18, so he could play in clubs. “At this time, I was really popular in Manchester. I used to walk in the street and people used to say "Hi" to me. Everything was perfect and then I fell in love,” he said.
His French girlfriend introduced him to the electronic party scene. Instead of concentrating on his music, he spent his savings on parties and drugs, often travelling to France.
His girlfriend broke up with him after his new lifestyle affected his mental health and his personality changed.
“It made it 10 times worse for my mental health. I was homeless as well, lost all my money and got suicidal.”
But the music helped him to stop his downward spiral. He went to London to visit ‘Mpree’, the beatboxer who let him perform for the first time in Manchester and with whom he had kept in touch. Adam joined him busking in the streets and, after making enough money, he went back to Manchester.
“I was giving up but doing music always gave me hope,” he said.
The next step was to make more vocal electronic music. The electronic music kept sticking in his mind and he started to recreate these sounds.
“Most of the new school beatboxing is based on electronic sound but my style is concentrated on making people dance. The whole structure of my beats is telling you, "Dance, people!” he said.
His plan for the future is to collaborate with different rappers, playing more shows and continue working on his second EP.
“I think that is the whole point of life to me. Affect people positively, do something that I love, take care of my wellbeing. I can’t think of a better thing to do”.