Mixing and borrowing from disparate music genres is fairly common in this postmodern age, but there are few artists who do it with such academic rigor as Oakland-based, classically-trained composer and pianist JooWan Kim.

Kim’s hip hop orchestra, Ensemble Mik Nawooj, performs original pieces that include a 7-piece chamber ensemble, 3 notable Bay Area rappers (Do D.A.T., Sandman and RyanNicole), and an operatic soprano.

According to Kim, the idea for the Ensemble came out of his graduate-level music program. From classical music, jazz, and most recently hip hop and American pop, Kim realized that historically, it was the injection of external influences into the dominant form of music that has been driving music forward globally.

“In the beginning of the 20th century, there was Claude Debussy in France, and he was very influential. No one had written music like that before,” said Kim, explaining that it was Debussy’s mimicking of Russian chords and traditional Indonesian Gamelan music that pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in western classical music at that time.

“If you’re trying to create something, there’s a theory that you are actually just mimicking something that you really like — and you fail to mimic it exactly, because you are not that person or that original thing, and in your failing to mimic it exactly, you create something new and beautiful and original — and that is what happened with Debussy,” said Kim.

Kim grew up in Busan, South Korea, listening to a wide range of music, including American pop music and classical music, at the same time. He calls his music “hybrid” music and makes parts for the collaborative MCs as if they were another instrument in the classical composition.

“Western European classical music can be totally alienating for a lot of people,” said Kim. “But what really struck me as I was looking at independent incidences of hybridization is that it happened so much before and is still happening. It’s the next step of human music.”

Oakland seems a fitting home for such a genre-blending, influence-melding group. At an upcoming show at Pro Arts Gallery on July 26th, the Ensemble will debut a new piece that was inspired by the death of one of Kim’s close friends.

Kim, a long-time practitioner of Taoist/Zen meditation, lived for seven years at the Sixth Patriarch Zen Center in Berkeley.

“The impetus [for the new pieces] came when I lost a good friend of mine of 10 years,” said Kim. “He passed away, and I’m really stoic, especially after the temple, so I didn’t cry but I had to resolve the feelings in my own way, so I wrote this piece, “Without Goodbyes.”

If you go:

Pro Arts Gallery
150 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland (directly across from City Hall)

Parking is on-street and at nearby garages. BART to 12th Street, and on weekdays, the Free Broadway Shuttle is available.

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