Black Violin performed a genre-shattering fusion of classical and hip hop in an unforgettable concert last night at The Barns at Wolf Trap. Black Violin is composed of Kev Marcus (aka Kevin Sylvester) and Wil B (Wilner Baptiste), two classically trained string instrumentalists who met in high school 20 years ago in Miami. Between Kev’s violin and Wil’s viola, the sold-out concert (their 42nd of the year) featured an evening of strings, beats and rhythms that had the audience both enthralled and dancing to the hip-hop beats.
Like violinist Lili Haydn (who has played with Parliament Funkadelic) Black Violin is all about destroying stereotypes. They’ve produced three albums, Black Violin, Classically Trained, and Stereotypes and two mixtapes BV Mixtape Series: Unleashed I and BV Mixtape Series: Unleashed II. Their music has been featured on TV shows like CSI: NY and commercials like one for vitaminwater featuring basketball star LeBron James. They’ve performed with the likes of Queen Latifah and Kayne West. They have also won the Showtime at the Apollo 2005 Legend title and played for President Obama.
Standing in front of a spare, black set with a white-chalk-like drawing of a violin on the back drape, Wil B signaled that this concert would break stereotypes by his insistence that the audience snap pictures and tag Black Violin on Social Media; he encouraged the audience to party.
And start the party they did, with the Classical and Country inspired, and appropriately-named “Dirty Orchestra,” a funked-up stringed ditty. Part Hip Hop anthem, part movie soundtrack, the next tune, “A Flat” featured great interplay between Wil B’s viola and Kev’s violin; at one point Wil B played his viola like a ukulele.
Wil B’s spoken lead-in to his cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” was grin-inspiring; to his viola, which he named Tiffany, he said “You pay all my bills. I fall in love with you every night.” Then three songs enthused the audience in short order: their new hit “Virtuoso”, which had everyone on their feet, and two covers, “Blurred Lines” (Robin Thicke\Pharrell) and “Uptown Funk” (Mark Ronson\Bruno Mars).
“Some nights, to change things up for ourselves, we make things up,” said Wil B, as the duo proceeded to create what sounded like a commercial song out of thin air. Featuring several violin and viola solos and the incomparable turntable work of D.J. SPS and drummer Nat Stokes, Black Violin’s impromptu jam was an instant crowd pleaser.
Many members of Black Violin’s audience are children who want to have a career playing a stringed instrument. During a break in the action, Kev encouraged Black Violin’s young fans to break stereotypes and perform “in a way that no one has ever done.”
The highlight of not only the concert, but of what Black Violin can do, was the duo’s hip hop cover of “Brandenburg Concerto” by Johann Sebastian Bach. The cover was reminiscent of an earlier Bach\modern-music-mashup, the 1968 Grammy-winning album Switched on Bach by Wendy Carlos (famous for scoring the movie soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange). Starting low volume, low energy, Black Violin’s cover exploded into a majestic mushroom cloud of hip hop beats and classical strings.
The politically charged “Invisible,” with its strong drum work, electrified the audience. Then I was taken back to the 90s by the dreamy R&B ballad “Addiction” (“You were my addiction for a long time”), one of Black Violin’s newer tunes, featuring Wil B’s smooth vocals and keyboarding skills.
“Magic” (The Jason Nevins Remix)” was high-energy, and accompanied by the well-timed claps of the audience. The encore cover of the King of Pop Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, featuring Wil B’s viola string-riff was a capstone to an unforgettable evening of musical mirth appropriate for the entire family.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.