After the door had creaked open to reveal an excited, smiling Pedro Roque ’13, I was welcomed into his spacious Parsons “dingle,” complete with a “beer pong porch” and a pair of astoundingly large speakers: a nice set-up by any standards. Admittedly, this was not my first encounter with this fellow sophomore, or with his particular talent: The moments before “Organic Chemistry” lectures during freshman spring were often punctuated by Roque’s beatboxing antics, which is what brought me here today.
Roque is an accomplished human beatbox: For the uninitiated, he has an uncanny ability for reproducing drum beats, rhythm and musical sounds using only his voice. “I can’t tell precisely when I started,” he said, though he remembers “doing throat-based sounds like the characters in Disney movies making the noise of a heart pounding and trying to scare my mom with it.” The occasional pastime turned into a real passion by senior year of high school, when he “started adding beats, and I realized that [what I was doing] had a name and a lot of other people were doing it.” After that, the Internet opened its doors to Roque, with YouTube videos and the like offering endless inspiration and ideas: “I started picking up stuff, taking in different concepts, developing my own identity.” Beatbox artists and web sensations such as Kenny Muhammad and Eklips quickly enriched his vocabulary and gave him a longing for his own distinctive style. “It’s an art form of self-expression, strongly correlated with hip-hop and rap, bringing together different cultural approaches,” Roque said.
The cultural factor in this musical phenomenon is the main attraction for Roque, which he can attribute to his roots that reach all the way across the Atlantic. Born in Cidreiro, Portugal, he followed his mother to the United States in 2004, three years after she had come over herself. After almost eight years of separation from his birthplace, he feels “connected to the U.S. – the two cultures, Portuguese and American, are definitely intertwined for me.” Cultural specificity and expression has, thanks to beatboxing, become an avid interest for him; it’s made him aware of the “symbolic value of language, and how we express ourselves. French artists, for example, can do scratching very well, because the way they speak is fast-paced and well adapted to that kind of sound.”
As a central part of his life, beatboxing has pushed its way into Roque’s life at Williams: Most of the Class of 2013 will remember Pedro being coerced onto stage by his entrymates during the First Days Jamboree and displaying his talent for all to see. More recently, he performed as part of Kusika’s “Powersource” piece, where “the concept was about the evolution of sounds, when people just have sticks and simple things and start making music very naturally.” Otherwise, he steps for Sankofa, which is, according to Roque, “very different from beatboxing because it tries to portray a mode of self-expression using power and precise movements. But these are ideas that beatboxers also try to represent.” In a more general sense, his creativity follows him around and permeates the most minute details of his day: “Basically, I don’t think I can be bored, ever: Instead I’ll just start making beats myself.”
Outside of his artistic pursuits, Roque tries to be as involved as he can in the Williams community. “Sometimes the purple bubble prevents us from having intellectual conversations,” he said, and so Roque purposefully tries to break down that barrier: “If you’re a runner, I’ll go running with you just to get a sense of who you are.” Thriving on personal connections, he uses these moments to gain a better understanding of himself and how he can reflect that in his music. Becoming a WOOLF leader and a bigger part of the WOC program and even spending more time with entrymates and “starting a wonderful relationship” have all been ways in which Pedro makes sure to “interact with the community to learn more” about himself. In the future, working as an EMT for an ambulance service and ultimately becoming a part of the Peace Corps are ambitions in which he would truly enjoy “using beatboxing as just a small, personal way of reaching out to people, as an icebreaker or a conversation starter.” In the meantime, he still has to make up his mind academically: “Social psychology, philosophy, English and history are all options at this point: What I’m really focusing on is cultural perception.”
At any rate, he promises big things for his next two years at the College: “Next fall, you’re going to see something happening. We’re going to start doing little performances outside of Paresky, and people are going to start wondering what the hell is wrong with these people.” Next spring, Roque plans to study abroad in France, but assured me that “senior year, something big is going to happen: I’m very excited.” As a final note, whilst talking about one of his inspirations, Will.I.Am, he made sure I would include a shout-out to his mother; “she’s much more important to me than Will.I.Am, no doubt about it.” Consider it done.