Art Beat: The EMN Hip-Hop Orchestra in Edmonds Feb. 10 — a unique and innovative performance for all audiences

Photos by Pat Mazzura

EMN’s Hip-Hop Orchestra Experience

The first question you might ask is, what is Hip-Hop Orchestra? Do those two things go together? The answer is yes, they go together in a unique and inspiring way that is enticing for musical enjoyers of all genres.

I had the opportunity to talk with JooWan Kim, artistic director and composer of Oakland based Hip-Hop orchestra Ensemble Mik Nawooj, to learn more about this unique experience coming to the Edmonds Center for the Arts this week. The show features scores by composer/pianist JooWan Kim and rhymes by MC Sandman, backed by a chamber orchestra.

JooWan Kim

The idea is to take the hip-hop underground experience and juxtapose it with a symphony. The artists have been invited to attend the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The unique show pairs rappers, symphonies, graffiti artists and musicians. All of this came together when Executive Director Christopher Nicholas was looking at the festivals that were turning virtual while dealing with the pandemic. Nicholas had submitted to Edinburgh Fringe, the largest performing festival in the world, and really didn’t expect anything. But it was a much-welcomed surprise when one of the presenters picked up the concept, put it on the official trailer and BBC even picked it up. The video started to gain some momentum. In 2022 the group was invited to perform at the festival in August.

The performances in the Pacific Northwest tour are the approximation of what will happen in Edinburgh. They are bringing a 14-piece crew, which includes a string quartet, wind instruments, piano and drum. The show will have an oomph with portions of the repertoire that will be performed in Edinburgh as part of the show. This tour was supposed to happen two years ago, but after being delayed for COVID they decided that part of the tour could (and should) be saved.

When thinking of the mix of hip-hop and symphony, one might ask whether they fit the target audience for this show and the answer would be yes, this show is for all audiences. Kim shared that in a previous performance in downtown Oakland, organized by a Catholic church, there was a variety of ages in the crowd and one audience member, who was 75, came up to the MC saying how much they enjoyed the “scat” music. Then a middle-aged couple at a Colorado show approached the group to say they sounded like the Wailers. Although the music isn’t scatting or reggae, people project what they hear. Since they haven’t heard anything like this show before, they try to approximate it to something familiar. If you are going to attend, you should be prepared to experience an entirely new genre. (And let us know what you liken it to!)

JooWan Kim and Sandman

The process of using the core sounds of hip-hop to render something new gives way to entirely new outputs. This being such a unique endeavor, the group is now working on a documentary about the experience.

If you want to be part of this evolving and innovative show, make sure to get your tickets now (available here) for the 7:30 p.m. show this Thursday, Feb.10.

You will get to experience transcendent music that was created as a reaction against the pandemic, a reaction to the devastation of life interrupted. The compositions combine emotion and the intent to offer healing through music. Kim shared that it’s almost like a “nice warm soup for your ear.”

I hope everyone gets a chance to experience this show, whether by checking out the website and hearing their works online or in person at the ECA.

Make sure to read the ECA COVID guidelines before attending any shows.

— By Rachel Gardner

Rachel Gardner has a heartfelt appreciation for art in all forms and believes everyone is an artist, some just don’t know it yet. A dedicated and involved Edmonds resident, she can often be spotted onstage cracking jokes between sets or in the audience enjoying local live performances. She enjoys being playful with her art and finding unique ways of expression, like forming a boho-grunge-folk ukulele trio with local Edmonds moms.


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