Classical, hip hop meet in ‘ Death, Love & Life’ 

Classically trained composer JooWan Kim calls his latest work a “chamber hip-hop orchestra.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Classically trained composer JooWan Kim calls his latest work a “chamber hip-hop orchestra.”

Oakland-based Ensemble Mik Nawooj is known for breaking traditional musical boundaries and taking audiences beyond labels such as jazz, classical and even hip-hop.

The concept comes to the fore in “Death, Love & Life: A Chamber Hip-Hop Orchestra,” which debuts Saturday at Brick & Mortar in The City.

Unraveling along a lush musical landscape of a seven-piece chamber orchestra, two rappers and an opera singer, the work delves into emotional and psychological waters as it chronicles joy, suffering — and the possibility of transcending beyond the mundane.

Composer-pianist JooWan Kim, the ensemble’s musical director, crafted the work, which melds classical compositional techniques with hip-hop, rock and pop.

“There are these three main pieces and in between them is the theme of hope, and also a piece about struggle and another about transformation,” Kim says. “It’s my thoughts on these experiences and concepts in my existence.”

Each piece varies in length — six to seven minutes for some, 13 minutes for others. Kim, a classically trained composer and Taoist-Zen practitioner, explains that the work illuminates hybrid music.

“If you think about it, pop music, some jazz and everyday music now is all hybrid music, because it came out of African-American influence and the arts,” he says. “Hybridization and hybrid music existed for about 100 years and the format and prototype began in European music. Eventually, it led to jazz, before that, maybe spiritual and Dixieland, and later R&B, which merged with country music, which became rock ’n’ roll.

“What I have done is used my technical training to inject that into modern music,” Kim says.

In the spring of 2005, Ensemble Mik Nawooj stunned Bay Area audiences with “Great Integration: A Chamber Hip-Hop Opera.” Considered groundbreaking at the time, the ensemble became the first of its kind to successfully bridge pop with traditional Western European music without diminishing the genuineness of either genre.

The new work features underground hip-hop sensations Do D.A.T. and Sandman, with Kim on piano.

“What I hope is that people walk away from this feeling as if they want to live the next day with a better attitude about life,” Kim says. “Hopefully, it’s a catharsis. I start with death and end with life. At the end, it’s very bittersweet, yet at the same time, dramatic, very calming — a resolution and hope for life.”


Death, Love & Life: A Chamber Hip-Hop Orchestra

Presented by Ensemble Mik Nawooj

Where: Brick & Mortar Music Hall, 1710 Mission St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $7 to $15


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