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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Review: Black Violin’s mash up of classical and hip-hop entertaining for all ages

Black Violin (Courtesy photo)
Black Violin (Courtesy photo)

I’m not sure everyone in the audience was prepared for Black Violin’s performance April 1 at the Fox Theater.

Before the show began, I overheard two couples comment on the number of speakers set up, and, as violinist Kev Marcus and violist Wil Baptiste walked onstage, kicking off their light show, the older man next to me said “Oh, they have lights. This is like a rock concert.”

After the pair opened the show with the title track from 2015’s “Stereotypes,” Marcus set the record straight.

“We know some of you thought you were coming to a quiet violin concert,” he told the crowd. “But a Black Violin show is a party.”

Joined by DJ SPS and drummer Nat Stokes, Marcus and Baptiste spent the next two hours driving the point home, fusing elements of classical music and hip-hop.

“We met in high school orchestra class 21 years ago,” Marcus said, giving the audience a brief rundown of Black Violin’s history. “We’d play Mozart in second period and listen to hip-hop on the way to third period. We brought those two worlds together.”

The duo split the setlist between originals like “A Flat,” off Black Violin’s sophomore album “Classically Trained,” and covers like “I Took a Pill In Ibiza,” originally by Mike Posner.

At one point, Baptiste introduced the crowd to his viola, Tiffany (“Tell her ‘You look good tonight, Tiffany,’ ” Baptiste urged the crowd.) and serenaded (his word) her with a mashup of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

After playing “The Mission,” also from “Classically Trained,” DJ SPS and Stokes got a turn in the spotlight.

The quartet then improvised a song, something they said they do every show to keep things fresh and show the audience how a Black Violin song typically comes together.

What started with Baptiste plucking a melody on his viola quickly grew to include Marcus, DJ SPS and Stokes. Each musician’s contributions blended so smoothly, it’s hard to believe the song was made up on the spot.

At this point in the show, Marcus and Baptiste gave the children in the audience, of which there were many, a special shoutout, telling them that they both received full college scholarships for playing the violin, which led to performances with artists like Alicia Keys and Linkin Park and for events like President Obama’s inauguration.

“The point of our show is breaking stereotypes and thinking outside of the box,” Marcus said. “We wanted to be professional violinists but wanted to wear fitted caps and joggers so this is what we came up with.

“If someone tells you you can’t do it, that’s more reason to prove them wrong.”

After playing a few more originals, “Invisible,” “Addiction” and “Magic,” and putting their “stank” on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Black Violin had one more surprise for the audience: bringing a quintet from Eastern Washington University onstage to play Joseph Brackett’s “Simple Gifts.”

After the quintet played the original version once themselves, they played it again, this time with Marcus, Baptiste, DJ SPS and Stokes, who played “Shaker,” from “Stereotypes,” Black Violin’s take on “Simple Gifts.”

Black Violin bridged the gap between young and old, traditional and modern, entertaining the children, parents and grandparents in the crowd.

Marcus and Baptiste are doing exactly what they wanted to do because they decided to think outside of the box. Seeing them live is a powerful reminder for the audience to do the same.

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