Why you should care
Because just when you think there’s nothing new under the sun? Black Violin.
If you’re a musician looking for press, there’s no better guarantor than mixing up the unlikely. Think Metallica plus Lou Reed, or the how people lose their minds when the music collective Odd Futurecomes at hip-hop like it’s hardcore punk. So when Black Violin is introduced with the phrases “hip-hop duo” and “classically trained violinists,” the cynical been-there-done-that crowd might justifiably start pushing away from the table. Until the strains of their song “A Flat” hit the eardrums, and then, really, the question needs to be asked: Where the hell have you been?
“There’s probably a reason why the violin’s been underused as part of the rock idiom,” says music journalist Matt Harper. “And that’s because it’s just too delicate to cut through the Sturm und Drang that’s rock’s bread and butter. But for the more rhythmically leaning hip-hop? Perfect.”
Delicate, different and, dare it be said, funky.
Or at least it was for Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste — aka Kev Marcus and Wil B — who met while in school in Florida and named their outfit Black Violin after a 1965 record by one of the few famous jazz violinists, Stuff Smith. They won some notoriety back in 2005 — like Showtime at the Apollo notoriety, which followed a bow at the Billboard Awards with Alicia Keys. But still, they didn’t get their big time breakthrough, and the “best kept secret” moniker has stayed doggedly attached to what was then and still is now unduplicated: hip-hop violins.
Catch Black Violin on their U.S. tour. Dates through March 2015.
Which is both too much and not enough to really describe how cool what they’re doing is. Delicate, different and, dare it be said, funky, Black Violin’s infectious mating of classical with some decidedly more modern musical stylings is something we can’t keep from stirring around in our heads. “It might be easy to dismiss them as a novelty act,” says performer Percy Howard, whose music with Bill Laswell and Vernon Reid gives him a well-placed pedigree to make such distinctions. “But only someone who aggressively misunderstood what makes music interesting would do that.”
Which is not us. So you can find us where we’ve been for the last few days: Drinking deeply, listening to what happens when you stand in front of a mic and ask, “Why not?” Listen in to this discovery off of Black Violin’s second record, the aptly titled Classically Trained.
Photography by Colin Brennan