By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
JooWan Kim, a native of South Korea and longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay area, doesn’t remember having a huge affinity for popular music as a youth. “I was a pretty typical academic student who enjoyed listening to classical music. It wasn’t until I was 18, I decided to pursue music seriously.”
Kim, who brings his Ensemble Mik Nawooj (spell it backwards) to Barboza and Neumos on September 5th, certainly started out with the classics. “Beethoven,” he remembers. “When I was 10, I listened to his 5th symphony in its entirety with my mother. I was struck with awe for its sheer emotional power and structural integrity. Subconsciously, I think I knew what I wanted to achieve in my life from then on; to create something comparable to what I heard.”
After going to undergrad and graduate programs, Kim continues, “I went through the usual European avant garde, ‘concert music’ phase, thinking that it was the noblest cause. Then, N.W.A. happened. As I said many times in other interviews, Dr. Dre baptized me into the river of hip-hop, making me born again as a hip-hop composer.
“To be clear,” he continues, “I’m not doing classical music with elements of hip-hop music or merging classical music and hip-hop to bridge some sort of nebulous gap. I’m making hip-hop music using a certain portion of classical techniques which I feel are compatible with the genre. Hip-hop speaks to me in a very special way. It is still relatively young and has great flexibility and enormous growth potential. In addition, it is vigorous and replete with anti-establishment sentiment. I am pushing the boundaries of what we understand hip-hop to be.”
For a student composers’ concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Kim wrote a novelty piece for chamber ensemble and an MC. He did it out of rebellion against the concert music aesthetic and this unexpectedly generated a lot of interest, which led his MC at the time to suggest that they make an album together.
“After spending about six months writing an hour of music, I had to seriously think about what I did with my life. This process of re-examination of musical aesthetics and their implications in the modern world completely transformed me. Other than the MC Kirby Dominant who was my first MC, everyone else was pretty much from the San Francisco Conservatory.”
Asked about his current classical ensemble, Kim relates, “Our current lineup includes flute, clarinet, violin, cello, drum set, bass, two MCs, and a lyric soprano. To be clear, except the two resident MCs, everyone plays exactly what I write. Of course, everyone is a consummate professional and a musician of highest order with a great sense of adventure and experimentation.”
And as for the two rappers, the composer enthuses: “Both MCs, Do D.A.T. and Sandman have a very different style of thymes. D.A.T. with more rhythmic flexibility and dexterity, and Sandman with percussive rapid firing of lyrics and at times, profound proclamations. They complement each other very well, which is especially evident in a performance setting; the MCs function almost as a ‘section’ of an orchestra as well as being soloists.”
The Ensemble recently recorded an album, “Ensemble Mik Nawooj: A Hip-Hop Orchestra,” and plans to record another soon. Kim is excited to bring his hybridized music to Seattle for the first time.
“From the classical composers,” he explains, “I learned to think rigorously. From the hip-hop producers, I learned to be free.”
Ensemble Mik Nawooj plays Saturday, September 5th, 7 pm at Barboza at Neumos, 925 East Pike Street in Seattle. For more information, visit http://thebarboza.com/event/ensemble-mik-nawooj-early-show/ . (end)