Working at a large state university has quite a few benefits for its employees, one of which is easy access to a wide swathe of cultural events of all shapes and stripes. Last Friday, the university offered Black Violin, a musical group who do the most amazing mash up of classical, jazz, bluegrass, R & B and hip hop.
That’s correct. These guys meld classical and hip hop together and it worked. I know – unique, right? Although going to the event knowing next to nothing about the group or its style may have been a risk, this particular lecture series had rarely let us down and so it was worth it. Plus I’d won free tickets. Snort.
Black Violin’s Wil Baptiste and Kev Markus are two African American classically trained musicians who met during high school orchestra in Florida. They reconnected after college, starting out as hip-hop studio producers until deciding to return their musical roots, and forming this group and now tour the U.S. and elsewhere showcasing their collaborative work and wowing their audiences. I don’t mean to sound too hyped about Black Violin, but they were really excellent and I bet that it was so good because we didn’t know a great deal about what to expect.
(Can you have degrees of excellence? Isn’t something either excellent or it’s not? Hmm…)
And this is one of the group’s main messages that they like to promote: Break all the stereotypes and don’t be afraid to be different. The group certainly live that message as they do not resemble the images of the players at a more traditional classical music concert. Both young musicians walk on to stage with more of a hip hop sartorial taste than black tie and tails, and so, right away, the audience knows to expect something interesting. (Or at least I did. I’m not sure what the usually fairly elderly white crowd who is the usual audience thought about it. 🙂 )
And speaking of audience, the place was PACKED with a lot more students so the energy in the theater was very different as well. (I know – one would think that university students would go to university sponsored cultural events, but oh no sireeeee bob – not without the extra credit, madam.) So we were happily surprised to be in such a younger crowd with such a charged vibe.
Anyway, Black Violin was so comfortable with a wide variety of music. The duo played their hearts out to the audience regardless of what style it was, and they both looked soooo genuinely happy to be doing this. I adore it when I see someone really enjoying what they’re doing and either one or both of these musicians were either laughing or smiling for the majority of the concert.
So yes. The music was really good as well. What does hip hop meshed with classical and bluegrass sound like? Try this Black Violin link to see. It sounds like a big party is what it sounded like to me. It was a pretty interactive concert which I thought was really interesting – the band was tweeting at times and encouraged all the audience members to tweet, flash, video all they wanted. In fact, it was encouraged and I hadn’t been to a concert where the band had done it so naturally before. (Yeah for new use of technology.)
According to the concert flyer, Black Violin was named one of the hottest bands at SWSW and have performed for POTUS down to middle schools and opened for or with Kanye, Alicia Keys, P. Diddy and Wu-Tang Clan.
If you should have the chance to go and see these guys, please don’t hesitate. Don’t worry if you’re worried that you won’t like their music – they play such a range that they’ll play one you’ll like. The two musicians just seemed to be good people who play good music. It also was also really refreshing to hear some hip hop music that focused on more than weed and a misogynistic attitude. Their message (which they’d taken earlier to one of our local high schools) was also hopeful: You can go out and be anyone you want to – just make sure that you do it in a way that’s never been before. Be original and authentic.
Thanks, Black Violin!
Note about the program notes that we rec’d: The band (and/or their manager) have a lot to do with the document contents in these hand-outs and I always think it’s interesting to see how the band wants to present itself verbally. It so happened that it seemed that each band member (minus drummer – poor guy) had written a paragraph of bio info and the one about the DJ was really interesting to me:
Joining Black Violin onstage is DJ SPS, an American turntablist/DJ/producer who was raised abroad and now calls Orlando home. He is known for his intricate fast cuts, stylish juggles and complex manipulation on wax.