Review: ‘Black Violin’ at Strathmore

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‘Black Violin’ serves up a musical potpourri at Strathmore

“This is a party!” said Wil B (Wilner Baptiste) one half of the group Black Violin, which performed a genre-mashing amalgam of hip hop and classical in an unforgettable concert last night at The Music Center at Strathmore. Black Violin consists of Kev Marcus (aka Kevin Sylvester) and Wil B (Wilner Baptiste), two string instrumentalists, classically trained, who met in a Miami high school 20 years ago. The sold out concert (1800 strong) was their 111th of the year and part of Black Violin’s Unity Tour. Featuring Kev’s violin and Wil’s viola, the concert featured an evening of beats, rhythms, spoken inspiration, strong vocals and stringed rhapsody.

Black Violin and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras at Starthmore last night.. Photo courtesy of Black Violin's facebook page.
Black Violin and Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras at Starthmore last night. Photo courtesy of Black Violin’s facebook page.

The incomparable Black Violin has performed or worked with Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Kayne West, and Queen Latifah and played for President Obama at his inauguration. The duo have produced three albums Stereotypes, Classically Trained, and Black Violin and two mixtapes BV Mixtape Series: Unleashed I and BV Mixtape Series: Unleashed II.

Black Violin’s music has been featured on TV shows like CSI: NY and commercials like one for vitamin water featuring NBA basketball star LeBron James. Standing in front of a spare, black set, Wil B said Black Violin concentrates on breaking stereotypes; unlike the typical concert, he encouraged the audience to snap pictures and tag Black Violin on Social Media platforms like Snapchat and YouTube.

The concert then moved into the movie soundtrack-sounding “A Flat,” which featured the marriage of Wil B’s viola and Kev’s violin. Theirs was a duel of delight. Drummer Nat Stokes gave the song a mighty, percussive backbone.

“She pays all my bills…my car note…beautiful brown skin,” said Wil B of his viola, which he named Tiffany. The duo performed a cover of “Uptown Funk” that was fun and funky, but for a group with creativity of this magnitude, unnecessary. Wil B’s vocals in the group’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” were jazzy-smooth.

The duo then went into what Kev called “free-styling,” an improvisational section of their concerts they are famous for. Featuring several violin and viola solos and the amazing turntable work of DJ SPS and the percussion of drummer Stokes, who had an awesome solo, Black Violin’s free-style jam was an unforgettable audience pleaser. “This is a YouTube moment”, Wil B said, “Someone please record it so I can see it.” The duo’s hip hop cover of “Brandenburg Concerto” by Johann Sebastian Bach was dynamite. That cover featured classical strings and a 21st Century beat, that was hard to beat.

Black Violin’s diverse audience included musically inclined children who Wil B encouraged to take the routine and turn it on its head i.e. “to find a different way to shoot the jumper [a reference to NBA basketball star Stephen Curry]…do it over and over and you will get paid for it.” Kev explained how he and Wil B “used to play classical music in second period [in school], but then we would play Wu Tang and Mary J. Blige.”

With Stokes’ strong drum work, “Invisible,” was pure excitement that had folks dancing and swaying in their seats. “Magic” (The Jason Nevins Remix)” featured Wil B’s lush vocals and keyboarding chops. The encore was a cover of late, renowned composer Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring”, played twice, once by the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras (MCYO), which is a Resident Partner at Strathmore, and lastly by the MCYO accompanied by Kev and Will B, who conduct seminars with youngsters all over the country. MCYO and Black Violin’s performance of “Appalachian Spring” was a rousing ending to a high energy evening of musical mashups enjoyable for the entire family.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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Black Violin performed for one night only, November 12, 2016, at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 North Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events, go to the Strathmore’s calendar of events.