If you came here looking for traditional string melodies, keep looking. The Black Violin duo turns the violin on its head (sometimes literally) and mixes their chords with rhythmic beats and a pulsing synthesizer. The driving percussion and occasional snaps and claps make for an all-encompassing musical medley that modernizes the instrument for a new-age audience. Black Violin plays at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on June 30 at 8 pm.
The music video for “Dreamer,” Black Violin’s most recent release, is set against an urban backdrop, with cuts to a wrestler flipping his opponent to the ground, a skateboarder flipping over a fire hydrant, and a tired-looking mother cooking breakfast for her child. The song is a tribute to ambition: “This is the day when I go all the way I make it my own, yes/ Here’s to the dreamers.”
And it is really something to watch. “Just imagine going to the most energetic rock show you can think of,” they told The Boston Globe in 2018. In the “Dreamer” video, while his hands are occupied with handling the strings, Kevin Sylvester moves his body like a whole other instrument. He punctuates every stroke of his bow by nodding his head, biting his lip, and bouncing with his knees bent. In between notes — while partner Wilner Baptiste sings a motivational speech by his side — he sways, taps his foot, swings his bow to the side.
Baptiste is buzzing with energy too. He encourages the viewer to reach higher, dream bigger, and believe. He does this all while twisting and turning to the beat — in much the same way a rapper does. But this rapper is pure enthusiasm, pride, and positivity; his outstretched arms fill the width of the screen.
If it weren’t for the wooden string instrument perched under Sylvester’s chin, one would easily confuse this with a hip-hop or R&B video.
But he is holding a violin, and that is what makes Black Violin so radical.
It’s no wonder that they are preaching aspiration. The pair themselves would not be here if it weren’t for their tenacity, vision, and good luck. Sylvester and Baptiste were first introduced to each other — and the instrument that would decide their future — at Dillard High School for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Once Sylvester and Baptiste were encouraged by their orchestra instructor to pick up the violin and viola, respectively, they fell in love with the instrument’s musicality and untapped potential. Shortly thereafter, they teamed up to create “Black Violin,” named after the jazzy album by violinist Stuff Smith.
After bringing down the house with a performance at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night in 2005, the duo began to receive attention from musical greats. Since then, Black Violin has collaborated with artists spanning all different genres: Kanye West, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Aerosmith, and Wyclef Jean. They even performed at President Obama’s Inauguration Ball in 2013. On their most recent, 2015 album, “Stereotypes,” they share their tracks with the smooth pop artist Melanie Fiona, the quick-tongued rapper Pharoahe Monch, and the sultry jazz singer Kandace Springs.
The Tabernacle is one of the many stops on their 2019 national “Impossible Tour.” So what should the audience expect on June 30? “Amazing,” “original,” and “high-energy” are all adjectives that have been used to describe Black Violin’s style of play. Let your imagination run wild.
Black Violin at the Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs, June 30, 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased starting at $25 at Ticketmaster.com.