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Black Violin’s performance Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts will include new tracks from its forthcoming album “Take the Stairs,” making East Lansing one of the first cities to experience the duo’s latest genre-bending project.
The upcoming album, available Nov. 1, is intended to mobilize a generation to reach new heights and challenge the status quo. It opens with “Rise,” a gentle crescendo of weaving strings. The second track, “One Step” hits as deep as a sucker-punch from a Transformer. In less than three minutes, the listener is teleported from their seat at the symphony to a stadium on game day.
“This time around I wanted to really manage and be deliberate and intentional about the emotional response we’re trying to get out of people,” said violinist Kev Marcus. “I think we are a bit more seasoned and know how to use these weapons a bit better than before.”
“Take the Stairs” is Black Violin’s fourth studio album, illustrating the unconventional journey taken by Marcus and violist Will Baptiste, aka Will B. The duo met in high school orchestra class and reconvened after college, gaining notoriety producing beats for South Florida rappers and performing hip-hop covers inside nightclubs. Since then, the group has worked with Wu-Tang Clan, Tom Petty, Lupe Fiasco, 2 Chainz and many more.
Marcus said he’s constantly collecting inspiration from his surroundings. The backstory of "A Way Home" is perhaps the most serendipitous, involving a technician who came to the studio to repair a modem. Marcus said the man asked him if he ever listens to Ethiopian music and shared a track by singer-songwriter Teddy Afro.
“I really liked the vibe of it,” he said. “We did the rest of the album and the very last song was just titled ‘Afro,’ so we started building it from satellite.”
Marcus and Baptiste wrote the entire song from a tour bus while their producer hammered it out in California. The final product is an uplifting, percussive jam calling for an end to hate with cinematic orchestral strings which Marcus called suitable for "the end of Black Panther 2."
Along with sending inspiring messages through tracks, Marcus and Baptiste make serious efforts to make special performances at grade schools while on tour. Black Violin connects with around 100,000 students each year through a program called TurnAround Arts, an educational arts program operating out of in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The affiliation led to the group adopting Bethune Elementary in Florida’s Broward County, not far from where the musicians grew up, to begin an arts mentorship program.
Marcus said that during school visits, he doesn’t talk about music at all. “What we are doing is not about the violin. It’s about thinking outside the box -- doing things that you don’t expect.”
Wednesday, Oct. 16
$19 students, $29-$49 general admission
Wharton Center for Performing Arts — Great Cobb Hall
750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing