Duo to perform at Santander Performing Arts Center
STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
For Kev Marcus of the string duo Black Violin, there’s another stereotype he wants to debunk, besides the ones about race or classical music.
In the middle section of the urgently poignant title track of their recent album “Stereotypes,” the emcee and classically trained violinist starts conversing about stereotypes associated with his size: “I feel like when I walk into an elevator — and there’s like four or five, y’know, different other people in there — they’re thinking: ‘Hmmm, let’s see what this guy’s gonna do …’ Maybe they’re not afraid, but they’re on notice.”
Marcus elaborated in a phone interview, sharing the story of an encounter he’d had that morning at a hotel in Pittsburgh. “This guy next to me says: ‘Don’t you play for the (New York) Giants?’,” he said.
He good-naturedly responded: “Nah, that was in a past life.”
Featuring skillful violin/viola playing to hip-hop beats, “Stereotypes” pulled off a rare feat by making the Top 10 on the Billboard Classical Crossover Chart and the Billboard R&B Chart.
A 2004 “Showtime at the Apollo” crowd went crazy when Marcus and violist and singer Wil B. put their spin on the Usher hit “Yeah.” A performance with Alicia Keys at the Billboard Music Awards led to the south Florida act collaborating with Wu-Tang Clan and Wyclef Jean, sharing the stage with names like Kanye West, Aerosmith and Tom Petty, and playing at the Super Bowl. “She kinda looked through my soul,” said Marcus of meeting Keys for the first time.
Black Violin put out a variation of Vivaldi’s “Spring” as a single this year, and they composed the score for Fox’s new TV series, “Pitch.”
The duo will take the stage accompanied by a drummer and a DJ Oct. 7 at the Santander Performing Arts Center. So those expecting a formal presentation of chamber music will be shocked to discover that a Black Violin concert is, according to Marcus, “very much a party — a party led by a violinist and a violist.”
“I rap at the beginning of the show, just to (establish) the hip-hop part. Our shows are probably one of the most diverse shows you’ll see … this year. We’re excited to be bringing this ‘Unity’ tour to Reading. The tour is all about unity and respect and unifying everyone,” he said.
Besides tracks from their albums “Classically Trained” and “Stereotypes,” “we play Bach to Drake to Kanye West,” Marcus said.
Another surprise regarding Black Violin is both Wil B. and Marcus were forced into their respective instruments by their parents. The key to working through that challenge, Marcus said, is an instructor allowing time during class for the student to discover their own individual voice within the instrument, making it their own. “We stop the show and talk about music to the kids in the audience,” he said. “It’s thinking differently about what it is that you want to do. It doesn’t even have to be music. If it’s basketball, find a different way to shoot the jumper.”
Black Violin are believers in educational outreach, in effect keeping interest in the violin alive for another generation. They have a Black Violin Music Academy, and they’ve performed for more than 100,000 students in North America and Europe in the past year, including as the featured musical act at the Blue Ribbon Festival in Los Angeles, where they performed for 19,000 fifth-graders over a three-day period.
So when did they discover it sounded good playing along with a heavy beat?
The duo were high school juniors when Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More” came out in 1998. Marcus discovered he could program a cell phone ring tone (this was before song ring tones were easily downloadable) of the haunting violin riff in the song — which is actually a sample of the opening theme to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” composed by Bernard Herrmann. Sharing the ring tone in class would eventually lead to a show-stopping moment at a high school orchestra competition. “We’re in Lakeland, Fla., in tuxes,” Marcus recalled. “All the kids went: ‘What?! They’re playing Busta Rhymes. How did they do that?’”