String duo fuses styles, smashes ‘Stereo­types’

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - LIVE MUSIC - By Mark Jor­dan Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

The duo Black Vi­o­lin is well known for its unique fu­sion of hip-hop and clas­si­cal music, but when the two play­ers per­form Satur­day at the Or­pheum, the au­di­ence may pick up on a sub­tle strain of Mem­phisstyle R&B as well. It may be most ap­par­ent about half­way through the show when the pair, backed by DJ SPS and drum­mer Nat Stokes, takes on the Mark Ron­son-bruno Mars smash “Up­town Funk,” which was partly recorded here at Royal Stu­dios with Mem­phis pro­ducer Boo Mitchell, who won a Grammy for his work on the track.

“That is the real peak of the show,” says Black Vi­o­lin’s Kev Mar­cus. “Every­one’s out of their seats danc­ing, and it’s crazy. We play a lot of things in that sec­tion of the show, a lot of med­leys and songs peo­ple know, but ‘Up­town Funk’ is the real high­light. It’s def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent take on it, but if you like ‘Up­town Funk’ and you like vi­o­lins, you’ll love this.”

Suf­fice to say, Black Vi­o­lin is not your typ­i­cal clas­si­cal music act. The group es­chews la­bels and glee­fully crosses bound­aries in pur­suit of a higher call­ing of bring­ing peo­ple of dif­fer­ent stripes to­gether through music.

For Black Vi­o­lin, the com­bi­na­tion of hip-hop and clas­si­cal comes rather nat­u­rally. Vi­o­lin­ist Mar­cus, whose real name is Kevin Sylvester, and his vi­o­laplay­ing part­ner, Wil B (real name Wilner Bap­tiste), met at Fort Laud­erdale’s Dillard High School of Per­form­ing Art, where the vig­or­ous cur­ricu­lum gave them a firm clas­si­cal base. In their rare down­time, the pair turned their ears to hip-hop.

One day, Mar­cus brought in Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More,” which has a dis­tinc­tive vi­o­lin riff sam­pled from Bernard Her­rmann’s theme from the movie “Psy­cho.” The friends taught them­selves to play the part and soon had their clas­si­cal class­mates go­ing wild. The idea of a band that blended their two mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ences de­vel­oped soon af­ter, but the duo wouldn’t re­ally get started un­til af­ter col­lege.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, Mar­cus and Will B tried to po­si­tion them­selves be­hind the scenes as song­writer-pro­duc­ers in the Nep­tunes mold, de­vel­op­ing their own artists with whom they would per­form. But in con­cert the vi­o­lins were steal­ing the show.

Bor­row­ing a band name from the ti­tle of a 1965 al­bum by late jazz vi­o­lin great Stuff Smith, the pair formed Black Vi­o­lin. Their


Genre-bend­ing string duo Black Vi­o­lin per­forms Satur­day at the Or­pheum.

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