String duo fuses styles, smashes ‘Stereotypes’
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.