Shadi Mirza


Or “How I spent my Saturday night”

I first heard about Black Violin in 2015 when NPR did a nice write-up. The duo, violinist Kev Marcus and violist Wil B., play a mixture of classical, hip-hop, R&B and jazz.

Having run through their breakthrough LP, Stereotypes, more than a dozen times, I knew what to expect sonically, but I wondered how it would translate to a live experience — almost every song on the album features a guest vocalist. Surely, they wouldn’t bring a whole cadre of famous singers on tour or, shudder, play over pre-taped vocals. my wife and I walked into the Chandler Center for the Arts prepared for anything and everything.

We couldn’t possibly have been ready.

From the moment we stepped through the doors, we were effectively tourists. Traditional merchandise tables stood side-by-side with dashiki purveyors. When we took our seats — in a sold-out auditorium, mind you — the woman seated next to me immediately introduced herself and struck up a conversation. Her brother had surprised the entire family with concert tickets, prompting the siblings to drive all the way out from Los Angeles.

A duo of college-educated Black men was playing their version of white music, and it had the makings of a goddamn event.

Then, it became one.

Yes, Black Violin played the title track from their latest album, but they also ran through some covers, as well as a lengthy improvised piece. They even riffed over “Bodak Yellow,” replacing the synth lines with strings.

Though there was no standing room to speak of, the auditorium turned into a party. People danced in the aisles. Social media engagement was encouraged. The DJ got to do a few mash-ups. The drummer soloed. Wil B serenaded his violin, named Jessica, with his own rendition of “Let’s Get It On.”

A classical recital, this was not. Yet, gazing over the crowd, I saw pockets of people who staunchly refused to get to their feet, clap or otherwise engage with the music. Were they expecting something else, I wondered? Did they clutch their pearls with knuckles not unlike the color of their skin? Or were they just sorely in need of a Red Bull and vodka from the bar?

The most poignant part of the evening, for me, was when Kev Marcus, caressing his viola, discussed what classical music meant to him. Among other things, it meant a full ride to college, a trip to Iraq for a tribute concert and transportation to stages around the world — not to play Bach or Mozart, but to perform on his terms.

And that’s pretty cool.

After the concert, my wife asked me to check movie times. A Black Panther show was happening right down the street in 30 minutes. We booked it over to the theater, continuing the theme we had already set for the evening.

Man, I know that Blade broke this ground in the 90s, and then slowly crumbled into irrelevance with a string of awful sequels. But I’ll be damned if Black Panther didn’t lay a new foundation and then build a skyscraper on top of it.

I was here for all of it. Powerful, intelligent people of color in almost every role in front of and behind the camera. A nuanced villain who is tragic in a Shakespearean sense. White characters reduced to narrative McGuffins. An honest-to-God Vine meme, in a major motion picture, that doesn’t fall flat. It’s a Marvel movie only in the sense that it features licensed characters and sticks to the same cinematic tropes.

But calling it a history lesson is apter. This is the story of an Africa that never was, and the diaspora that still is. And, yeah, some superhero shit happens around it. But it’s a testament to the film’s artistry that the Marvel stuff really does feel like a footnote. They could make a spin-off movie with just Nakia, Okoye and Shuri and I would buy out a whole theater.

What I’m saying is, my Saturday was dope.

#movies #music #race #comics