MC Yogi Is the Polarizing Hype Man of Yoga
Nick Giacomini went from being a Bay Area burnout to a yoga celebrity. His career is also a window into long-standing debates about yoga and cultural appropriation in the U.S.
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The practice of yoga dates back to 2700 B.C., which is hard to remember at the Wanderlust Festival. But to be fair, I came in the back way. Had I walked through the yoga event’s entrance in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, I would have at least been given a guest wristband and greeted with a beatific yogi smile. Instead, I accidentally walked straight into rows of vendor tents hawking wellness-adjacent items, like free chickpea snacks rubber-banded to a coupon for 10 percent off.
The day’s program included group tarot-reading lessons and a Larabar-sponsored lecture on how to use food to beat depression. The offerings felt algorithmically generated: you like yoga, so you may also be interested in Kind bars. If you were an alien who just landed on earth, or a Hindu deity dropping into a 2019 yoga festival, you’d probably wonder what exactly pamplemousse-flavored sparkling water has to do with an ancient spiritual practice. But spend enough time practicing yoga in the Western world and you may forget that yoga and all its capitalist accoutrements—CBD oils and healthy snacks and thousand-dollar retreats—aren’t inherently linked. I felt less like a seeker on my way to enlightenment and more like a floating demographic for a targeted ad. Eventually, my free tote bag full of free coconut water and free power bars, I stepped away from the vendors and rolled out my yoga mat for MC Yogi’s headlining set.
If you practice yoga, you’ve likely heard MC Yogi’s instrumental tracks—he calls them “omstrumentals”—on a studio playlist. MC Yogi, whose real name is Nicholas Giacomini, is the Diplo of yoga festivals. He’s a yoga devotee, teacher, and studio owner who also travels the world to play his music at events. He has 118,000 Instagram followers, and his song “Shanti (Peace Out)” has racked up ten million plays on Spotify. As a 40-year-old white man with glasses and short hair, who often wears a fedora, he looks more likely to mix you a $14 cocktail than to write songs about an ancient Indian god. But his lyrics are where he embraces the full MC Yogi persona. Here’s a typical verse, spit over a South Asian beat: Ganesh is so fresh, chillin’ on his throne / Surrounded by incense, fruit, and gold / With a heap of sweets piled in his bowl / He guards the gate and protects the threshold.