Dallas — Black Violin is Wil B. on viola and Kev Marcus on violin, joined by DJ SPS and drummer Nat Stokes. They’ll be at Annette Strauss Square at 9:45 p.m., Friday, March 9, for an evening that promises to be a classical concert—or a hip-hop concert, depending on your perspective—like nothing you’ve seen before.
TheaterJones spoke with Kev Marcus about Black Violin’s music, their outreach, and their efforts to defy stereotypes.
TheaterJones: What is special about your background and training?
Kev Marcus: I started playing violin when I was nine years old. My mother made me do it. It was an effort to get me away from some of the people in the neighborhood. I met Wil on the first day of high school. We were stand partners in the viola section of a performing arts high school. We had a teacher who pushed us. So we were performing and listening to classical music every day, but also it was the golden age of hip-hop, 1996-2000. So outside of class, we listened to Wu Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill, etc. So we were in a unique position to blend the two [hip-hop and classical] in a way that was respectful of both.
What do you do that’s special or different?
Everything about what we do is making people go “What the hell am I looking at?” But at the same time, we want you to recognize the forms. We’re violin, viola, drums, and DJ, and as soon as I say that, I want you to think about what that could possibly sound like. We are completely classical in the way that we approach the violin and the viola, except that we have a drummer and a DJ and it’s loud and there’s a light show. We play everything from Mozart’s 40th symphony to Bruno Mars, and we do it in ways where—you and some of the other classical fans, you might say, “Oh, that’s a really interesting take on Mozart’s 40th,” while the person next to you will be listening to the lyrics. But you’re both experiencing the same thing and liking it for different reasons. We have audience members come up to us who are 90 years old and six years old, of all different races. We have foot into what’s hot, and one foot into extremely classical.
How do you see yourself as breaking with tradition or cutting down stereotypes? Or do you even see that as your responsibility?
Well, it kind of is. We’re not going to preach to you, but we do have a lot of young people in the audience, and we have a strong responsibility not just to entertain them, but to educate and inspire. We like to use the story of who we are and what we look like and there’s a part of the show where we do a mashup of Bach’s Brandenburg No. 3 and the Notorious B.I.G., and then I tell them that the most important part of our show isn’t the violin, it’s about thinking outside the box. The reason people are coming to see us isn’t because we’re the best violinists in the world. It’s because we’re thinking about it in a completely different way—so what can YOU do that’s different from anyone else? What can YOU do in a way that no one else is thinking about doing? Also, we’re breaking stereotypes in that we don’t look like stereotypical violinists—and that’s exactly why this is working. I was that black kid in the orchestra with nothing but Asian girlfriends—I was that kid. But I was also that kid listening to my Walkman, and all those beats—I loved it. So our mission is to blend everything together so that everyone understands what we’re saying, all of the time. But you know, when you have this kind of platform, you must use it. You must use it for good. If you’re told you can’t do something because you’re a girl, or because you’re too old—nah. You’ve got to take that deficit and turn it into a positive. That’s what we try to preach, more so than go practice your violin, though we do say that, too.
What would you want readers of TheaterJones to know about why they should go to hear Black Violin?
This is a concert for anyone who says “I like all kinds of music.” This is that kind of concert, and most people I know say that. If you truly believe that you listen to all kinds of music, then this is what you’ve been waiting for your entire life.