Words swirled around a young Stevie Ansara’s mind like a series of thought tornadoes. But he couldn’t make his brain and his mouth work together and when he tried to speak, he stuttered terribly.
Then one day, Ansara, who is best known around Detroit as Stevie Soul the beat boxer, started noticing that in between his attempts to speak, weird and funny sounds came out. It was those utterances that helped Ansara correct his speech and speak clearly with a little cadence and a lot of patience and practice.
“I would take these funny sounds and arrange them into beats and patterns,” Ansara, 29, says. “I found rhythm through that and that helped me find sentence structure and pacing. I figured out how to speak normally through my internal rhythm.”
Those sounds and rhythms started taking shape in other ways and before he knew it, Ansara had messed around and taught himself how to beatbox. He was in middle school and the same kids who once teased him were suddenly asking him to lay down beats with his mouth so they could rap and sing over the sounds.
“Back in the day, I didn’t even think beatboxing was a real thing,” says Ansara, who grew up in Redford, a western suburb of Detroit. He now lives in the city near the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“I didn’t know much about it so I started doing research and started understanding the Fat Boys and Biz Markie and found out about these hip-hop icons and the history and I was just amazed by that,” Ansara says.
Other musical influences include Rahzel, the Roots, 1990s R&B jams and artists such as Stevie Wonder, R. Kelly, Curtis Mayfield and Hall & Oates. Ansara’s older brother Nabil Ansara, aka DJ Sandman, used to spin at WJLB-FM 98 and he helped shape the beatboxer’s tastes, too. Ansara’s other older brother is an IT guy.
“Luckily for me, I had a head start but originally, it wasn’t something I did to entertain people,” he says of beatboxing. “That was a great age to discover music and figure out what I like. I used to carry my older brother’s crates around, hand him records and watch him spin.”
The same speech impediment that led Ansara to beatboxing also helped make him incredibly observant. These days, he listens intently, which also pays off when it comes to sound checks. And his keen hearing and sight transformed him into a charming and informed conversationalist, a visually minded multimedia artist and an aspiring music producer.
For proof, just check out his Instagram page mrsteviesoul, where his #yearofthebeatbox has allowed Ansara to chronicle nearly 300 days’ worth of beatboxing performances of all kinds. He’s traveled all over Michigan and the country to perform and recently shared his story of overcoming past speech problems at the National Stuttering Association Conference in Atlanta.
“I’ve opened up more in my adult years about my stuttering,” Ansara says. “When I was younger, I thought if people didn’t know about it, I wasn’t going to bring it up and remind myself. But I realize now that’s who I was and I have to embrace it.”
Openly discussing his speech obstacles challenged Ansara and so too has his Instagram chronicles. He says the posts have pushed him to try new techniques and sample various genres and tempos.
“There are so many things out there that will distract you from your craft,” he says. “Forcing myself to constantly post on Instagram has made me rededicate myself. I was making beats everyday anyway, I just wasn’t posting it.
“Now I’m documenting my little jam sessions and moments of doing my thing. It’s pretty ambitious. There was a time when I lost the flavor for beatboxing. This has helped me reconnect.”
Ansara’s 2,300-plus Instagram followers are very supportive of his nearly year-long social media journey and leave comments like “I want to jam with you” and “These have been amazing lately. Keep it up.”
Beatboxing is Ansara’s passion but it doesn’t always pay the bills so he often takes on various multimedia projects. His immigrant parents are from Jordan and while they couldn’t help him with his stuttering issues in English as a child, they did teach him the value of hard work and multiple income streams.
When he’s not making beats, Ansara does sound recording, photography and other behind-the-scenes coordination for Woodward Original, a Detroit-based video production company. He’s also done freelance graphic designing and taught elementary and junior-high students about graphic art and music.
“I’ve always loved music and graphics and video production,” says Ansara, who graduated from the International Academy of Design & Technology in Detroit. “Music is great but when I realized all the ways filmmaking can bring music together with visuals, I never looked at music the same way again.”
Anthony Bommarito works with Ansara at Woodward Original and says you’d be hard-pressed to find a more versatile and personable dude.
“Stevie is a man of many hats and talents,” says Bommarito, who has known Ansara for nearly two years. “He never meets a stranger and his charm and charisma are infectious.
“One day, we were walking down the street and he said “What’s up, fam” to a guy and I thought he knew him but he didn’t. But the guy was so happy and said ‘Hi’ back. That’s Stevie. He’s always making people feel welcomed and comfortable like he’s known them his whole life.”
Bommarito can still recall when they became friends.
“When Stevie first met me, he called me ‘Bom’ for short. That’s what my friends call me so how did he know that? That’s when I knew we were going to be cool,” Bommarito adds. “Because he seems to know everybody or knows somebody who knows somebody, he’s always problem solving and finding fast solutions for our production needs. We call him FOC, or Family of Companies, for short because he knows so many people.”
More than anything, Ansara is hoping that as Detroit’s arts scene continues to expand, more native musicians and artists will choose to stay and help nurture the movement.
“I’m doing what I love in a city I love,” Ansara says. “It’s a feather in my cap, but it’s also proof that one way or another, it can be done.”