Student Newsroom

Composer disrupts musical norms with a hip-hop orchestra


Composer JooWan Kim (Right) leads Ensemble Mik Nawooj, which includes rapper Unity Lewis (Left). The group originated in the Bay Area of California over 10 years ago and now tours the world. Pat Mazzera

CHARLESTON — A concert that fuses hip-hop and classical music is coming to the Doudna Fine Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University. 

The San Francisco Bay Area’s Ensemble Mik Nawooj creates music by sampling elements and techniques from both the classical and hip-hop genres.

The ensemble is composed of some standard orchestra instruments — like woodwinds, violins and French horns — but also includes a rapper and drums.

The concert will feature deconstructed and reimagined works by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, as well as “Parangsae” (Blue Bird), a piece based on the Korean folk tune of the same name.

Group leader JooWan Kim said the idea for the ensemble first came about when he was looking for a way to express his frustration at a recital while pursuing his masters degree in music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

“For me, being a very cantankerous, rebellious person, I said ‘You know, probably, they’ll hate it if I bring a hip-hop emcee to a concert hall,’” Kim said. “So I did exactly that.”

He said the blend is meant to disrupt what he calls “oppressive European music standards.”

Lamont Holden, a hip-hop producer and music technology professor at the University of Illinois, said he’s glad that Kim reached out to experts to help him write hip-hop, but that he wishes classical artists did the same.

“The irony is that you have somebody coming from this elitist musical tradition and trying to be more inclusive, which is great, right?” Holden said. “But what would be really nice: If someone in the classical community reached and was like ‘Yo, what are your ideas, what do you see that we’re not seeing?’”

Ensemble Mik Nawooj performs March 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and more information can be found on the Doudna Center’s website.