Kenny Muhammad doesn’t bother with handshakes. Instead he holds on tight, feeling the energy being released in the form of heat. The serene silence of spiritual communication doesn’t last long, though, as it is interrupted by the telephonic ringing of his next opportunity.
Muhammad, 44, a practicing Muslim, recently moved to south Phoenix from New York City to isolate himself in a creative environment and to work on an album. Fans know Muhammad as The Human Orchestra – because of the music he creates solely from his own body. He is a world-renowned beat boxing champion.
“He is a pretty remarkable performer,” says David Eaton, the music director of the New York City Symphony.
Muhammad has showcased his talents with the symphony many times since meeting Eaton in 1998. A respected composer, Eaton has written many classical pieces to accompany Muhammad’s work. The last time the pair collaborated was for a television special on the History Channel in 2010. The show was "Stan Lee’s Superhumans."
The technique of beat boxing (yep: there's variations) Muhammad does is called the “wind technique.” It's a combination of exhaling and inhaling while producing percussion sounds with the mouth. This mixture sounds like a recorded song with all the bells and whistles – but it's coming solely from the mouth of the performer.
Muhammad was born and raised in Rockaway Park in Queens. His single mother, who he calls his guardian angel, raised him. She kept him, his twin and his older twin brothers in line, Muhammad says. His mother passed away from cancer in 2009 in Muhammad's care.
“I inhaled her like a blunt and got so high,” Muhammad says, referring to his last moments with his mother, as she exhaled her last breath.
He now carries her spirit with him wherever he goes, and she gives him the energy he needs for all of his endeavors, he says.
But Muhammad already carried another spirit with him before the addition of his mother. Muhammad’s twin brother Keith was killed in 1998; but Keith still lives with him, Muhammad says.
While growing up, Muhammad says his mother was always listening to James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire. They, along with the beats of Doug E Fresh and Buffy from The Fat Boys, influenced his musical career.
According to Muhammad, Buffy was the first one to really make beat boxing.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be beat boxing today,” Muhammad says.
Rahzel, another beat boxing mogul, draws his inspiration from Doug E Fresh, among others. He's also worked and performed with Muhammad on various occasions. While their collaborations are successful, working with Muhammad is also educational, Rahzel says.
“He is very insightful about life, and he is a master of his craft,” Rahzel says.
This insightfulness Rahzel refers to goes back to Muhammad’s spiritual beliefs.
Muhammad joined The Nation of Islam in 1990. Nowadays, he isn’t shy about sharing his beliefs. He even refers to The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan as his spiritual father – and has pictures for proof.
In 1994, Muhammad was pronounced dead after a near fatal car accident. He was in the back seat sleeping, seatbelt-less, on a cross-country trip. Farrakhan told doctors to place Muhammad on life support and that he would come back, Muhammad says. After 18 hours, he regained consciousness.
Although he has suffered loss, near death experiences and the occasional run in with the law, the one-man band has had successful tours, memorable collaborations and a lust for life.
“ I just love life,” Muhammad said. “Life is the only reality.”
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