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Arts & Entertainment

SF Philharmonic and Latinx pop artists craft a border-blurring sonic experience

Snow Tha Product, Los Rakas and Oscar Cortez join forces with the SF Philharmonic. | Tecate ALTA and Joel Puliatti

It’s not unusual to hear a full symphony take on works of popular culture. Screenings of blockbuster fantasy franchises are often paired with live orchestral accompaniment and the “Pops” orchestra format is built upon the idea that audiences love hearing their favorite Top 40 tunes arranged for strings, woodwind and brass. 

But when Jessica Bejarano, conductor and founder of the San Francisco Philharmonic, debuts Alta Sinfónica this Saturday at the Herbst Theatre, the East Los Angeles native will raise her baton over something many will likely find novel. For one night only, Bejarano’s orchestra will accompany a lineup of California rap, hip-hop, reggaeton and dancehall artists.

With Bejarano’s ensemble behind them, Snow Tha Product, Oscar Cortez and Los Rakas will take center stage on Saturday night, reimagining their hits for both ride-or-die fans and SF Philharmonic regulars who may be unfamiliar with this contemporary canon. 

In addition to the headliners’ hits, Bejarano told The Standard that the audience can expect to hear an orchestral arrangement of Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina,” and at least a couple of favorites by Lady Gaga and Bad Bunny. 

Originally hailing from San Jose, Snow Tha Product (née Claudia Alexandra Madriz Meza) is a Latin Grammy-nominated rapper who found her musical voice through mariachi. After signing to Atlantic Records in 2012, she released the single “Cali Love,” which samples 2Pac’s old school classic. Bejarano said she’s been mesmerized by Madriz Meza’s stage presence and freestyle dexterity during rehearsals. “She has incredible flow.” 

Oscar Cortez grew up not far from Bejarano in East LA, and the matriarchs in his family sealed his fate as a songwriter when they handed him musical instruments rather than toys as a young child. Today, Cortez combines contemporary poetry with corridos balladry.

Raka Rich and Raka Dun will only have to cross the Bay to join Bejarano’s ensemble on stage this Saturday. Together they make up Los Rakas, an Oakland-based Afro-Latino hip-hop and dancehall duo who are originally from Panama. 

SF Philharmonic’s arrangers worked closely with the guest artists to adapt their instrumentals for a full-fledged orchestra, with full string, woodwind, brass and percussion sections. The addition of an electric guitar section will crank the pops orchestra format to 11.

Alta Sinfónica

Herbst Theatre
401 Van Ness Ave.
Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
| $25