You don’t expect to find a totally instrumental, violin-dominated single in the Top Twenty on Billboard’s Hot Singles chart. But “Symphony of Brotherhood,” the new single from Miri Ben-Ari (a.k.a. the Hip-Hop Violinist), is just that. Featuring Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech weaving in and out of an extended string solo, the track sailed to Number Nineteen just weeks after its radio release.
For Israeli Ben-Ari, a former child prodigy who was discovered by Wynton Marsalis and Kanye West over the course of her many early gigs as a music student in New York, playing her new hit single live has brought a range of emotional crowd reactions. “I played it on my tour with the Roots,” she says. “I played it in Memphis, where MLK got assassinated. I played it for people putting their fists on their hearts and crying.” In a recent event for the Boys and Girls Club of America in honor of Queen Latifah, Ben-Ari even moved the hip-hop pioneer. “Queen Latifah said she never heard an instrumentalist like me before,” Ben-Ari brags.
Now her mash-up of hip-hop and classical music has led to collaborations with pop divas Mariah Carey and Britney Spears, a Grammy for her strings on Kanye West’s runaway single “Jesus Walks,” and the release of her own debut, 2005’s The Hip-Hop Violinist.
But now that Ben-Ari has established the violin as viable hip-hop and pop accompaniment, she’s determined to take it to the next level and prove that the instrument can stand on its own. “I’m not just someone who put an instrumental song out,” she says, convinced she’s now being taken seriously as an artist who can stand on her own. “I’m a Grammy Award winner everyone knows, from Kanye West to Jay-Z.”
While The Hip-Hop Violinist was packed with guests from Kanye to John Legend, Ben-Ari promises that her next album will have a lot more in common with “Symphony of Brotherhood.” “I got pressured by my old management to feature a lot of other artists [on my debut],” she says. “They didn’t believe that music itself — like it used to be in jazz, with Herbie Hancock, Grover Washington — could come back. Because everything today is so pop- and voice-oriented. Nobody is doing real music. Everyone is looping.” For her next effort, she promises, “I’m going to promote live music and live instruments as much as I can. After I did everything I’d been told to do, I was like, ‘Let me do me now.'”
But does an album packed with experimental violin tracks really have a shot at Number One? “There are two types of music: good music and bad music,” says Ben-Ari. “There are no other types. Good music can be anything.” The business, she says, “will have to catch up with me.”