Words and photography by Michael Schaffer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Live hip hop is hard to do well. Artists who forgo the easy, boring route of having a DJ press play on an instrumental track often face the formidable challenge of capturing the feel of hip hop with live musicians. Likewise, the machine-forged rhythms and sounds that comprise the musical bed of many rap records can't be easily duplicated by most instrumentalists. Many bands try and fail to recapture the classic thump of an 808 drum machine or the hypnotic swagger of a looped sample from an old soul record.
All this was on my mind as I waited for Magna Carda, an Austin-based hip hop outfit consisting of rapper Megz Kelli, keyboardist/Producer Dogie Do, and a live rhythm section, to take the stage at The Parish for their album release show last Thursday. Within a matter of minutes, the band had rendered my concerns a moot point. With a sound owing more to the jazz-infused productions of classic 90's groups like a Tribe Called Quest, the band succeeded in achieving a lively, funky mood that often captured the spirit of those old hip hop records without trying too hard to sound exactly the same.
Megz Kelli proved to be a charismatic and engaging front woman, moving with purpose and energy across the stage as she delivered her thoughtful lyrics in earnest, leaving a distinctive impression on the audience. But she wasn't afraid to lend her fellow band members some of the spotlight. One of the highlights of the night was a wonderfully crafted guitar solo by Eric Nikolaides, who brought the house down with a dizzying array of telecaster wizardy. The rhythm section, consisting of drummer Mike Gonzalez and Bassist Derek Van Wagner, created a dynamic backdrop, often building up the intensity at just the right time. By the time the band had finished their set, they had secured their spot in my mind as not only the most interesting hip hop group I had ever seen in town, but also one of the most entertaining live acts in the Austin scene.
Your next chance to catch Magna Carda in Austin is on Thursday, May 26, 2016 at Historic Scoot Inn (tickets) with Sun Seeker, Slomo Drags, and Leopold & His Fiction. You don't want to miss this show.
Magna Carda - "The Root" Live in Studio 1A: