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'Gangsta Wagner' puts a hip-hop spin on the 'Ring' cycle at Grand Performances

June 21, 2010 |  5:05 pm

Grand-Performances With his loose cream-colored suit, red and white high-tops, short fluffy beard and hair braided into two tight strands running down his broad back, Geoff “Double G” Gallegos hardly looked like the stereotypical symphonic conductor. While bouncing on the podium, he vigorously waved at the rows of musicians before him who swayed with their instruments. Full sections of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion were represented, plus turntables, keyboards and electric guitars. Behind Gallegos, at the front of the stage, young men in baggy jeans and bright T-shirts bobbed their heads furiously as they rapped and sang.  Mixing hip-hop and rap with symphonic sounds might be a surprising blend, but it sure made for an energetic show.

Several hundred people gathered Saturday night at California Plaza in downtown L.A. to see Gallegos lead the daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra in a performance of “Gangsta Wagner.”

The show was offered by the summer concert series Grand Performances as part of the city-wide "Ring"  festival. Intending to enhance, expand and explicate the Los Angeles Opera production of Wagner’s “Der Ring Des Nibelungen,” the festival features a multi-venue collaboration of lectures, films, live performances and more. Grand Performances wanted to participate by offering something more for the general public than the audience of opera aficionados.

The result was “Gangsta Wagner,” composed, arranged and orchestrated by Gallegos.  Despite studying the classics at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Gallegos confessed to being unfamiliar with Wagner when Grand Performances commissioned the work. He said during the performance that, “I only knew the part in 'Apocalypse Now' when they go charging into the jungle,” referring to "Ride of the Valkyries."  But in learning about Wagner, Gallegos came to admire the composer’s innovative music, saying, “People who think outside the box usually get persecuted.”

Delving into the "Ring," he composed “Gangsta Wagner” to reflect musical themes from the four "Ring" operas, which he said “the 'Ring' nuts out there” would hear. But the music did not intend to interpret the story, he said. In fact, the lyrics rapped and sung over the orchestra had nothing to do with the "Ring." (Actually, most of the words were unintelligible.)

Many in the audience were enthusiastic about the show, belting out “Yo!” and “Yeah!” at the end of each chorus. The people who spilled out onto all of the plaza’s corners and platforms included couples young and old, families with picnic dinners and groups of friends enjoying a night out. The crowd represented a  cross-section of L.A.’s diversity. 

About halfway through the show, the rhythm of the violins, the oom-pah-pahs of the brass, the thumping of the drums and the fierce grunts of the rappers created a beat that rocked so hard, the ground shook.  The people who had gathered at California Plaza – whether "Ring" junkies, hard-core rappers, or casual spectators – all bobbed their heads to the same rhythm, under the same canopy of stars.

 -- Daina Beth Solomon

Photo: the scene at California Plaza. Credit: Daina Beth Solomon

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Comments () | Archives (12)

How sickening. Let's just render all art banal, dumb it all down. Hell, Wagner is one of those irrelevant "dead white European males," anyhow. So let's just give his music a COOL hip-hop beat. This idiot didn't even know that "Ride of the Valkyries" is from an opera, not "Apocalypse Now." I like the part of the article where the reporter notes, "Many in the audience were enthusiastic about the show, belting out 'Yo!' and 'Yeah!' at the end of each chorus. " This, apparently, is what most people want in their art. Something to make them grunt and hoot like beasts.

Wagner is probably rolling over in his grave...Good! LOL

Wagner just can't get a break. First it was the nazis now its the gangbangers. But who knows, one day the hip-hop crowd may actually learn to play musical instruments and write their own music. Of course they'd have to learn how to read first.

The above comments are indicative of the woefully misinformed public (and in this case a rude rube AKA dingo), as well as the rather pedestrian level of journalism penned by the reporter the Times chose to write this piece on GG and the Dakah hip hop orchestra.

Geoff Gallegos’s (GG) work represents more than a decade of ultra creative, articulate, and truly artistic work that represents a unique cultural treasure for the Los Angeles community, and for everyone else who understands the value of his work.

Mr.Gallegos is truly a trail blazing pioneer working on a modern synthesis of contemporary culture and classical music. I have witnessed in a variety of venues his transformation of the music of classical composers into a brilliant synthesis of jazz, symphonic music, and contemporary rhythms.

Performances at the Getty Museum, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Hollywood Bowl, UCLA, at the Grand Performances events in downtown, and at privately hosted public parties held by Nike sportswear and the city of Beverly Hills have all chosen to showcase the unique musical talents of this individual.

Every bit as revolutionary as the composers Mozart and Stravinsky were in their own day (albeit without the same degree of musical genius) GG has in his own right transformed both the classics and the wildly popular sounds of Hip Hop music into a living, breathing representation of contemporary attitudes via an artistic fusion of very high order.

In 2008 GG’s work with his smaller jazz based group Concert Nine Net played off of Mingus, Stravinsky, Erik Satie, and Dvorak compositions and created sultry and compelling sounds that at the time reminded me of some cool soundtrack for a futuristic Film Noir with Blade Runner style atmospherics.

I’ve never heard anything like it before or since, and as an aficionado of Jazz for 45 years I recognized this work as a stunning accomplishment.

Wake up LA, LA Times, and all the misinformed bigots out there and become aware of the art of Geoff Gallegos, and start by offering up some seriously overdue respect.


dingo, you are spot on. Watch as the movie Idiocracy transforms from a fictional comedy into a terrifying documentary.

Sorry, but I am compelled to remark on the above comments, which are so indicative of the woefully misinformed and artistically inept plebeians in our midst (in this case an obvious knuckleheaded named after a wild dog), and on this lackluster piece the Times has chosen to print regarding this high energy event starring GG and the many players in the Dakah Hip Hop Orchestra (published with a photograph of a less than interesting perspective of the physical venue rather than of the actual artists performing).

For many who love & support The Arts in Los Angeles Geoff Gallegos’s (GG) work represents more than a decade of ultra creative, articulate, and truly artistic work that represents a unique cultural treasure for the Los Angeles community, and for everyone else who understands the value of his work.

Mr. Gallegos is truly a trail blazing pioneer working on a modern synthesis of contemporary culture and classical music. I have witnessed in a variety of venues his transformation of the music of classical composers into a brilliant synthesis of jazz, symphonic music, and contemporary rhythms.

Performances at the Getty Museum, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Hollywood Bowl, UCLA, at the Grand Performances events in downtown, and at privately hosted public parties held by Nike sportswear and the city of Beverly Hills have all chosen to showcase the unique musical talents of this individual.

Every bit as socially revolutionary as the composers Mozart and Stravinsky were in their own day (albeit without the same degree of musical genius) GG has in his own right transformed both the classics and the wildly popular sounds of Hip Hop music into a living, breathing representation of contemporary attitudes via an artistic fusion of very high order.

In 2008 GG’s work with his smaller jazz based group Concert Nine Net played off of Mingus, Stravinsky, Erik Satie, and Dvorak compositions and created sultry and compelling sounds that at the time reminded me of some cool soundtrack for a futuristic Film Noir with Blade Runner style atmospherics.

I’ve never heard anything like it before or since, and as an aficionado of Jazz for 45 years I recognized this work as a stunning accomplishment, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Wake up LA, LA Times, and all the misinformed narrow minded rubes out there and become aware of the progressive, bridge building art of people like Geoff Gallegos, and start offering up some seriously overdue respect for those willing to turn the status quo on its head.



So…..wasn’t Wagner a famous anti-Semite? Why on earth would Grand Performances spend thousands commissioning this ensemble to play Wagner’s music? Especially when the event and the ensemble claim to celebrate multiculturalism? And what about “Gangster Rap” is anything but antithetical to living together as a society? Wow, incredibly egregious move I would say, and offensive. And to say nothing of the performance itself…which was brimming with a superficial “wow” and nothing else. In fact, now I know why daKah plays but once a year. They are misguided, mediocre, and seemingly full of themselves. What an incredible waste of precious arts resources and an evening that could have been so great.

This genius numbered all the measures of the entire Ring, is keenly aware of the influence of Wagner on popular culture film scores such as the aforementioned Apocalypse Now, Star Wars and even Bugs Bunny, and is very aware of Wagner's political context and it's relevance to LA today. How lucky Double G is to have been bred into more than one cultural orientation and to have the courage and creativity to pioneer a bridge between disparate worlds. Too bad some have the audacity to think that art is relevant only if it stays within the confines of classical culture. That audience might die off...why not educate them and others, instead, in a way that makes Wagner hip and makes hip hop poetic and prophetic? It's an enormous feat to delve into both opera and hip hop as completely as DoubleG does, and be cool and relevant to both.

"Dr. Richard Arthur Love" writes that Geoff Gallegos, or Double G, or GG, is "every bit as revolutionary as the composers Mozart and Stravinsky were in their own day (albeit without the same degree of musical genius.") Well. . .this term, "revolutionary" is tossed about all the time by hype-meisters, intending to denote something daring, groundbreaking, new. So-called "hip hop" and "gangsta" rap are new chiefly for their level of derivation. They are nothing---repeat, nothing---but boorish, thuggish amalgams of other contemporary popular fluff (none of which is original, either.) They are anything but "revolutionary," and completely beholden to all the myriad music they steal from and "synthesize," leading the likes of "Dr. Love" to ooh and ahh. Case in point is the very concert reviewed here: taking Wagner, mixing it into a hip-hop beat. These days, five-year-olds can do that with iPhone apps. "Dr. Love" is right about one thing: "GG" lacks the "genius" of Mozart and Stravinsky. Totally lacks. 100 percent lacks. If and when GG can sit down and notate a score that comes within a light-year of "The Rite of Spring," please let us know, "Dr. Love."

It is wonderful to have this debate, a testament to the obvious dubiousness of many of the heralded titles surrounding this ensemble and its leader, Double G. Malia…the music may be good and fun, but not genius, that is a very liberal use of that term. G did not write the music, he just sampled it, and how relevant IS Wagner anyway? G did it because he got paid to right? Perspective. Secondly, I find Geoff to exhibit an arrogance that can’t really be backed up by much skill in conducting OR writing, certainly not to the degree it is displayed. I mean, Double G, and Dakah for that matter, both walk around like they are revolutionaries, as someone mentioned above, but come on, again, highly inflated. I’m not saying the music isn’t fun for you, but please put it in perspective. It’s not that deep. As for G’s conducting, where’s the love? He just looks angry all the time. I guess that’s the only aesthetic he understands…….grrrrr……I also know that he would fail miserably in front of a real orchestra. Again, just put it in perspective please. Fun, but not as sophisticated as all that. The “genius” numbered all the bars…that’s funny. I can count to 20,000 too.

Whoa there! Having just read the article a minute ago and also having been fortunate enough to see the show June 19, thanks to the recommendation of a friend, I'd like to gather my thoughts. But first off, I'd like those who despised the show, or rather maybe the article, to reconsider their perspectives. Let me quickly write, I am a true lover of jazz, classical i.e., Wagner's music (but not a bigot, MUST I even SAY IT ???...). And I have recently, in the last 8 years been one who respects Hip Hop as an amazing form of urban poetry and modern poetic thought, thanks in part to an enlightening show, "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry" via HBO.
What I witnessed Saturday night, June 19, was an awesome display of "what could be." Generations coming together and giving respect to the art and music of the future, past and the present. I witnessed a living being of art for all. A multi cultural and multi generational piece at peace in 2010. Geoff Gallegos aka Double G, is keeping us all informed. Old, young, middle-aged, and is inspiring us, the diverse masses, to educate, accept and appreciate the complexities of each others' music and poetry and points of view. I see a humble man with great talent and ambition who inspires me, and many others to educate ourselves and toss aside bigotry, and the turned-up-noses of expectations of jazz, classical and even hip-hop. I saw and heard an amazing piece of unity Saturday that should be admired and not passively nor ignorantly cheap-talked-away. I, for one, loved it and so did my all three generations of my family who were visiting! I didn't see anyone, young or old, walk away. I saw people saying, "Wait a minute... what is this?" I saw appreciation.
I respectfully and most sincerely, ask those of you who wrote ahead of me, who wrote with words of malice and disdain, to question yourselves and ask how, we humans, in this easy access pop-world, iTune, MTV generation, ... how we see the future, while respecting and preserving our past? I ask you, where are the young generations in our symphony halls? Where are the young at our jazz jam sessions - where is there even a jazz anymore? How do we feed the young talented, classical and jazz trained musicians living on Starbuck tips? How do preserve the illumination of the masters that came before us? Double G and daKAH Hip-Hop Orchestra is the answer to the dreams of those composers have come and gone, and who will shine a light on our past in the future. I'm just saying...


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