According to Wil B of the classical hip-hop group Black Violin, “to most people it doesn’t seem like these two guys should be playing the violin.”
But he and his longtime collaborator Kevin Marcus do exactly that. Classically trained, but touring like a rock band, Black Violin mixes a blend of string-playing skills with beats and rap, and brings their Classical Boom tour to the VETS on April 3.
Wil B immigrated to the United States from the Bahamas when he was 11. He wanted to play in the high school band, but by mistake he was placed in the string program. That didn’t stop him from making the music he wanted to create, and you can hear what that sounds like on this Impossible Tour—coming to the VETS as part of FirstWorks.
“It’s called the ‘Impossible Tour’ because of the idea that classical and hip hop can have this amazing marriage together,” Wil B (Wilner Baptiste, who plays viola as well) says. “It challenges the listeners. A lot of time what we do onstage pushes people.”
Black Violin formed more than a decade ago—“but Kev and I have been playing together since high school,” Wil B says. They spread their sound online, on social media, and through appearances at cross-over festivals like SXSW and Bonnaroo.
“Most of the crowds at our concerts may have never heard us live before,” Wil B says, “but they’ve seen us online, and been intrigued, and they come to check us out. When they get to the show they hear something that’s very different than what they expected.
“Not a lot of people get exposed to the violin,” he says. “It’s the key element in our music. We use it like a rock guitar, like Carlos Santana would in his songs. It always depends on the song tradition, but the violin is usually the key element. Even if it’s a vocal song, the violin takes the lead at some point.”
Black Violin isn’t making their first local appearance—they played in Providence last year on their Classical Boom tour. Just like most of their concerts, they will be bring local music students onstage for the closing number of their set. Almost three dozen local music students will join the duo onstage at the climax of their concert.
“We talk to kids everywhere about being respected,” Wil B says. “How to express themselves, how everyone is beautiful and strong. We have the kids come to soundcheck earlier in the day, and we talk a little bit about what we’re going to do onstage. Welcoming them is a way of showing what we’re about.”
It’s all part of building a following, but doing it the Black Violin way. “I wouldn’t mind having a couple more albums, and a ten-million seller, and a couple of Grammys,” Wil B says of the future, “but as we continue to grow, I want our voice to become a bit louder for the things we think are important.”
To help make that happen, they’ve performed with more than 100,000 kids over the past decade in the U.S. and Europe. “I like to think we promote the power of ‘I can,’ Wil B says. “And they understand that we’re here because of the violin.”
Black Violin performs April 3 at 7:30 p.m. at The VETS, 1 Avenue of the Arts, Providence. Tickets are $29–$59. Call (401) 421-2728 or visit thevetsri.com.