Hip-hop and classical genres merge together in a collaboration that's about more than just the music. Scott Kara talks to Matt Salapu, aka Anonymouz, about having a foot in both worlds

Matt Salapu, better known in local music circles as Anonymouz, has always walked happily in both the classical and hip-hop worlds.

"On Saturday I would go to my piano lessons in Mangere Bridge. On Saturday nights I would go out for a drink with the boys at the local car park and we'd be drinking up to Dr Dre and Tupac, loving the hip-hop and busting freestyles," says the rapper, producer and pianist with a hearty laugh.

"But then on Sunday morning I'd go to church, hungover, playing [piano] at church service, but I'd play the hymns with that hungover hip-hop feel and incorporate a few jazzy chords in there.

"So my life has always been a fine line betwen the hip-hop world and the classical world," says Anonymouz, who is also the musical director of classical-meets-hip-hop music project Remix the Orchestra.

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Started in 2008, it brings young and aspiring hip-hop and urban music artists together to make music with classical players from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

Now in its fifth year, tonight's concert is the first time it has been held at the Auckland Town Hall with the backing of the full, 70-strong APO.

This year's performance will also feature special guests, DJCXL, Frisko (aka Alphrisk of Deceptikonz), Tyree (from Smashproof) and New Zealand hip-hop stalwart Ermehn, as well as Remix mainstays Anonymouz and JEM, and many of the young people involved in the project since it began.

"At the end of the very first programme we did we had five APO players and when we did that little concert at the Otara Music and Arts Centre, there wasn't a dry eye in the building," remembers Anonymouz.

"People knew that it was very special, even way back then, because in that first year it was undeniable how well the programme had worked."

Remix is not just about the music, it's also about social and personal development since many of the people who go through the programme come "straight from the hood", have family problems, or are entrenched in gang culture.

"I'm not playing stereotypes here," says Anonymouz, "but they have no idea what classical music is. It's totally alien to them. So one of the crowning glories of the programme is that when they successfully come out the other end with a song, they have been stretched so far outside their comfort zone that they can apply that to other things in their lives and they can overcome any social things that are holding them back, be it gangs, family, or whatever."

Samoan rapper Ermehn (real name Herman Sakaria) cheekily compares the collaboration to "an island boy going out with a palagi girl".

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"It's like you're going to her house to be introduced to her parents," he laughs. "It's like someone from the 'hood going out with an upper class girl from Devonport or somewhere."

But, he says, they can co-exist and even though his songs are heavy and hostile at times he already uses a lot of strings to add a sinister edge to his music.

"Some of it's haunting, like the old horror movies with a guy who comes out with a kitchen knife and stuff. I love it."

And even though he had to censor some of the lyrics in his songs Before You Wake and Otara Gangstaz before this week's concert, he's looking forward to it.

"Having the palagi orchestral crowd come along to check out the collaboration: that will be interesting for me to see their take on it."

What: Remix the Orchestra, a hip-hop meets classical collaboration
Who: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Anonymouz, Tyree, Ermehn, DJCXL, and more
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, tonight, 8pm

-TimeOut