Last Saturday night, San Francisco’s Brick & Mortar Music Hall was host to a trio of exceptional musicians who brought raw energy and talent to the eager ears of an eclectic crowd. The intimate, laid-back venue became the perfect complement to a combination of smooth raps, sultry beats and robust acoustics throughout the show.
Beat-boxing cellist Cello Joe opened up the show with a funky unconventional take on genre mash-ups using onstage looping techniques, while rapper, poet and female MC Aima the Dreamer followed up with a strong performance over head-bopping rhythms.
Headlining was Ensemble Mik Nawooj, which performed its latest hip-hop chamber opera “Death, Love & Life.” Arriving that night and quite frankly not knowing what to expect, I was treated with an unforgettable and altogether invigorating musical experience. EMN, which consists of a flutist, drummer, bassist, clarinet player, violinist and cellist, as well as MCs from The Attik, a soprano and a pianist, filled the stage and commanded full attention with a stroke of the keyboard.
With each piece that was performed, everyone in the room was brought along with EMN as they traversed through an emotional journey that went from startling death to tumultuous love to newfound life. The ups and downs of life played out as a harmonious balance was found between the lively music and arresting vocals. Although the musicians were classically trained, the music was anything but classical. It was as if all these layers of pop, rock and jazz instrumentals were injected with a classical flair that gave each portion its own quirks and lasting characteristics. “Hope Springs Eternal” brought delightfully upbeat, energetic notes while “Morning Light” built up to a powerful crescendo led by pianist and composer JooWan Kim and opera singer Lauren Woody. Rappers Do D.A.T., Sandman and RyanNicole were impressive as they exercised a lyrical prowess that put into words exactly how the music felt. Whether it was Kim, with his hair flying and fingers pounding away at the keyboard, the MCs, with their vibrant voices ringing out across the room, or the orchestra as they waxed sweet harmonies, the result was captivating, authentic and indicative of the very ways in which EMN is revolutionizing hybrid music.
EMN will be joining the line-up at this year’s free Hip Hop in the Park festival, held at People’s Park on May 4. Head out and indulge in a real hip-hop opera — the kind that might have R. Kelly reconsidering what to call the next installments of his “Trapped in the Closet.”
Check out the music video for “WGFYU!” below.