Isolation Drills: Rumi Kitchen (OOLALA, Johnny Showcase)

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Kitchen: The global pandemic has been a slog. I feel like everyone is a little low in the tank. My perceptions of myself—and the world, and my relations with people in that world—have taken some deep turns.

It impresses and humbles me that pandemics come across generational memory: real human-living-on-the-earth stuff. It’s not the sort of thing your parents pass down—more what your young grandparents or great-great grandparents went through.

It feels so electric to feel connected to everyone by our common humanity while yet being mostly distanced from everyone we know and more alone and front-facing than ever.

Before pandemic, I played two-to-five gigs a week in Philly and around and toured for good bits. I’ve been a part of all the ways music has happened during the pandemic: streaming on whims or organized into streaming shows, rooftop concerts down into the streets below, small-ticket parties from a porch to a yard, Bucks County Democrats election party, outdoor bar-parking-lot gigs, rallies, etc. I filmed a music video on green screen and played all the parts myself so we could limit exposure.

At first, there was confusion. After a bit, it felt like I had been stripped of my superpower. Music is feeling, and being able to vibrate whatever feeling out into a crowd at once and immediate is my favorite thing. It is an irreplaceable, singular endeavor. There aren’t the same aphrodisiacs in streaming, but the challenges of finding different mediums has been illuminating and sometimes fun.

I’ve been able to get my at-home recording set-up really on point, and we’ve been working a lot with Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo sampling beats onto our drums and exploring new vocal sounds. Joe’s a legend, and we’ve been able to get some good new shit started, trying to keep it no presh. Our new OOLALA song “The Internet” is fire, and we made a video for it we’re really proud of. Check it here.

I have a “Cosmic Trilogy” in the works with West Philly Orchestra. We’ve finally gotten back around to working on it, after we finished our hit “Cosmic Freak” and then got a deal with Giving Groove Records, and then postponed it indefinitely right after COVID-19 hit and we decided that we couldn’t tour and do the thing anymore. I had felt a new flow and was rapping on some of the tracks, and the live performances were getting hot. Change. O. Plans.

With the government now in upheaval and the virus raging more than ever, it’s been hard to feel the ground or feel motivated, but art sometimes presents itself as a very joyful relief and return to form in a spiritual balm sort of way.

We did a cover of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” for The Philly Holiday Album and there have been some real shining points. I have some fun recordings with Johnny Showcase in the bag to release.

In general, I think we all feel changed forever. I’ve felt really sad seeing some of my favorite venues and small businesses fall away. In my best moments, it feels like all this could be a shedding and the strongest, truest parts of what I hold dear about music and art and expression will ring more true going forward.

Really, I know that this sort of social PTSD will affect all us performers forever, creeping up to help us remember that life is fragile and we all need each other. Hopefully, that will come shining through in new blooms after everything finishes burning down.