Double G is the founder and condutor of the dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra. It is not often that you run across a multi-instrumentalist and orchestra conductor with an appreciation for hip-hop music but Double G is one such musician.
BBoytechreport.com was able to catch up with Double G to discuss his musical philosophies, leading and composing for the dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra and future plans.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Honolulu, (the oldest of three), and moved to the mainland at a young age. My dad was in the military, and my mom worked in retail and paints oils on the side, she has the artist-gene. Both of my parents are from So Cal, and I have a lot of L.A. roots. Most of my school-age years were spent in Aurora, Colorado, with the summers here in Cali. My parents split up when I was in jr. high, and music became very important. Musically speaking, I’m the only musician in the family. I have a Jazz Composition degree from Berklee College of Music.
Are you a multi instrumentalist? if so what instruments do you play?
Yes. I started very young on the guitar, but it didn’t stick. I STILL suck on the guitar. Public school used to have instrumental music available for anyone, in 5th grade the saxophone appeared in the path. At 13, my mom got me a Casio keyboard, and I started to figure out the keys, and composition. Composition is still my favorite thing. Since there was no saxophone in orchestra class, I learned percussion and conducting. I can fumble through the electric bass, and play a song (poorly) on the trumpet. If it all started over, I would play the cello & bass.
I believe I read that you once said you are “seeking enlightenment thru music”. Explain that journey to us.
I’ll do my best to keep this brief. It works on a few levels, most directly, in the breath. Since I play saxophone, music provides a great meditation tool. Rather than chant “OM” and sit in the lotus position, I play long tones on the sax. I play Charlie Parker solos and Bach cello suites very slowly, like a yoga pose, and breathe into each note. Since those pieces require an advanced saxophone technique, they require me to approach them humbly.
On another level, music is mainly a social phenomenon. This requires a degree of empathy and camaraderie towards the other cats in the circle, ESPECIALLY when I’m the one handling the money. Cats talk, and hell hath no fury like a musician scorned. Running an orchestra has been a great lesson in ethics, and transparency. I like to run it as fairly as possible, where everyone is rewarded for what they do, to the best I can make available. I know that people wouldn’t show up to play if they felt like they were being cheated or taken advantage of.
I’m far from perfect, but those in the group know I’m genuinely doing the best I can.
How did the dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra come about?
It started in 1999, when there were a lot of cats hanging around L.A. between tours. I joined forces with a trombonist named Dan Ostermann, and we pooled our resources and contacts. We wrote some arrangements, and got on the phone, recruiting cats to play. At the same time, there was a new venue called Temple Bar that was opening in Santa Monica. A friend, Megan Jacobs, offered a residency to another friend, Davey Chegwidden. daKAH was part of that Rhythm Room residency series that rocked the Temple Bar every Sunday night for a few years.
Fortunately, the first show was packed, and the orchestra of 23 cats sounded decent enough to keep going. Musicians lined up to join, and the group has been on a steady course of improvement since then.
Was it difficult to blend such different styles of music while still keeping both styles so pure and prominent?
That part has also been a journey. When colors are mixed, they lose their original hue in some way. Blue sacrifices it’s sovereign “blue-ness” to collaborate with yellow.
For the most part, the blend of symphonic hip hop translates well enough to create a good live music experience. As with many conductors throughout the history of music, I would love more rehearsal time with the musicians. As the size of the group has grown, rehearsal becomes increasingly more important. The music won’t sound pure or prominent without great musicians being in sync.
Thus far, the best result of a strict “classical/hip hop” musical experiment was “Gangsta Wagner”, a 2010 collaboration with Grand Performances and Ring Festival LA. That piece, to my ears, has successfully mixed the sound of 1992 USA west coast rap with 1876 German opera orchestration. That one will end up being more like a rock record when we can go into the studio.
How many players were / are in the orchestra?
We started with 23, and have had as many as 80 on one show.
I have three sets of orchestrations now, for 70-piece, 34-piece, and 22-piece. We can roll in those formats based on the needs of the venue, and the size of the musician payroll. They each sound different, but each can create a good enough version of “symphonic hip hop” to function as such.
What was / is it like to gather everyone for rehearsals and recordings?
That is the best part of it all. For a while, we were having rehearsal BBQs at Fanny Franklin’s place. Those were family times for sure. This group is made up of carefully selected people, based not only on talent, but heart. That makes our gatherings pretty loose and fun, more like a party than a rehearsal.
For this reason, I really love sectionals. When I can get a group of string players to run the string parts, the horn players to run the horn parts, and so on, it not only fine tunes the sections, but also provides immediate musician feedback to a composer. I can see when cats are bored, and not feeling what I wrote. It improves on the next arrangement.
Also, a smaller group makes it easier to be efficient, and focused on the time. Three hours of sectional can get a lot more done than nine hours of full rehearsal.
Recordings are special for us. Every studio recording I have of daKAH sounds timeless. There are lots of unreleased tracks. My hope is that, someday, we’ll be able to record everything in the book.
Speaking of recordings, has the dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra recorded and released any albums?
Yes, we’ve done a few. There was a live show in 2000 that was sold at shows for a year, and has since gone out of print. The first studio release was “Unfinished Symphony” in 2002. Then came a few live records, the best of which was “SF Debut” in 2004. Scion put out a limited edition 12” vinyl of us doing “Jazz Thing” with Guru in 2005. I started work on “III x 13 (Three By Thirteen)” in 2004, did sessions in 2006, 2007 & 2008, and is still in progress. I’ve been paying for it out of pocket, and it’s moving slowly.
How did the partnership / sponsorship with dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra and Scion coming about?
That was a total blessing when it did happen. It started as a result of Jeri Yoshizu, who was a marketing executive at Scion at the time. This was the year before the Scion xB came out, and we partnered up as part of their marketing campaign for the car.
This turned out to be a very good decision. That period saw a studio recording release, lots of promotion for the orchestra, and several trips out of town, to Las Vegas, San Francisco, Austin, New Orleans and Chicago. It takes quite a bit of money to move seventy humans and their instruments around the country. Hotel rooms, salaries, plane tickets, food, rehearsals all cost money. I was pretty happy when that was happening. All we had to do was focus on the quality of the music, and we were paid.
Fantasy is reality.
Is dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra an ongoing project or has it run it’s course?
daKAH is like a bear. It hibernates for a while, and then comes out when it’s time to eat. And when it eats, it eats everything.
Seriously speaking, the group has always risen to the availability of the next show. Our last show was at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and we had a room full of older people who had never heard of us shaking it on the dance floor. As long as we move the audience, there is life for daKAH.
The film “Hip Hop Maestro”, a documentary about daKAH going from the street to symphony hall, was released in 2011. That film has been very helpful in promoting the orchestra around the world, without having to actually buy seventy plane tickets. The film can serve as a way to increase a demand from the audience, causing the need for a live show.
Musically speaking, I think there is a void in what kind of symphonic experiences are available to the listener. daKAH serves as a alternative orchestra that plays the music that the other orchestras can’t play. We’re not gonna play Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 as well as the LA Phil, so we play The Roots, Gang Starr, Snoop Dogg, P-Funk and music that is relevant to others. Our programming, as long as they serve the audience, will keep daKAH alive.
When composing for dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra did you work with someone to bring that hiphop beatmaking element into play?
I’ve tried solo and collaborative approaches to composition. Both are working well in different contexts. As far as a beatmaking element, my favorite collaborations have come with David Rojas, aka Leggo. I think the strongest sounding “symphonic hip hop” tracks that daKAH has are those co-written by Leggo and myself.
He mainly uses the MPC & turntable as his writing tools. These are two instruments that hip hop has given to the orchestral score. The rhythm section of daKAH includes these two instruments in live performance.
What are your current projects?
There are a coupla things keeping me occupied right now. The main focus has been my group, NineNet, which has roots as a jazz thing, but is branching out into other sounds now. It’s six horns and a rhythm section. I’m also composing for a big band right now. That sound was the last time that jazz was #1 on the charts all the time.
My favorite recent project was a string octet show with Miguel-Atwood Ferguson. We did it a Grand Performances in 2011, and it still resonates with me. The fact that the string octet has survived into the 21st century makes me very happy.
What are the future plans for dAKAH Symphonic Hip Hop Orchestra?
I’ve been planning and scheming for years now. All it takes is some grease for the machine. For now, it’s been about stacking up arrangements for the next launch. Since daKAH has all of the music notated onto sheets of paper, all it takes are a few rehearsals and shows to get it popping again.
The cats are around and want to play, folks are looking a little bored right now. Maybe we’ll see daKAH shows as a result.