A Hip-Hop Oratorio Inspired by Loss

09.13.17
EMN
KQED

By Cy Musiker

Oakland musician, composer and band leader Joowan Kim is always ambitious, a hip-hop artist with classical rigor. Witness his newest effort, a hip hop oratorio called Death Become Life, written for his Ensemble Mik Nawooj, involving turf dancing, DJs and rappers, and a variation on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice — it’s about a girl trying to reclaim her life after the death of her boyfriend, and her journey to an underground party in search of his spirit.

Joowan Kim told me he built the oratorio around what he called a prayer. “May good conquer evil, may light banish darkness and death become life,” something he said he wrote after losing his mother, grandfather and girlfriend in the same three-month period. “And we are very aware,” Kim continued, “of the environmental changes going on, and political changes, this horrible time. And we want to contribute to the positive transformation. And it’s inevitable actually, otherwise we will die, ‘we’ as in humanity.”

The music, including deconstructions of classic hip-hop from decades past, is more buoyant and optimistic than that description may sound. Witness the video below, or better yet, see the show at Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland. It’s cheap — just $5. Details here.