Maestro J and Devine Carama with the Nu Soul Band
The meshing of violin, even when the repertoire leans more to R&B and soul than classical, with hip-hop might seem an unlikely alliance. But for longtime friends and musical cohorts Maestro J and Devine Carama, what results is a sound with a natural bond.
“What he does with the violin is incredible and unique,” said Lexington hip-hop artist and activist Carama, who enlisted the Louisville-based Maestro J for a Saturday performance at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center to benefit the Believing in Forever organization. “He plays a lot of neo-soul and is a great live performer. So it really puts a different twist on your expectations of what a violin player is. It also meshes well with my music.
“We met about 10 years ago, and I have brought him to Lexington to perform probably 15 times. Maestro J has kind of blown up nationally (he has shared concert bills with Roy Ayers, Ronnie Laws, Euge Groove and other R&B/jazz notables), so it just made sense to bring him here for this.”
“This” isn’t simply another collaborative performance between the two artists. Believing in Forever is Carama’s three-year-old nonprofit organization that oversees a variety of community service programs.
“We’ve really built it up to where we’ve got three or four regular initiatives that we’re doing either weekly or monthly, and we’re making a lot of plans for more work, too,” Carama said. “We’ve got Sons of Single Mothers Mentoring Days, which we’re doing every month. We’ve got our weekly tutoring sessions. We’ve got the coat drive we do every year, which we’ve now expanded to Eastern Kentucky. This show will go to help to fund all the initiatives that we do with Believing in Forever.”
While Believing in Forever has grown considerably in a short span of time, so has the demand for the services the organization helps provide. The bottom line in such an endeavor is simple: It takes money to provide those services, which is where the Saturday concert comes in.
“There are a lot of great organizations in Lexington, but I really want to reinvent the wheel,” Carama said. “I always try to find specific niches where maybe my organization can help. That’s where we’ve kind of made our space in the community. I think that’s why we’ve grown so quickly — especially our Sons of Single Mothers Mentoring Days initiative, because there is nothing geared toward boys that come from single mother households. So that particular program has really grown, just because we have so many mentors to help.
“Things are growing fast, but at the same time, it takes money to do these things. Being a relatively new nonprofit and still learning the grant-writing process, I’d say that 90 percent of our funding is either currently coming out of my pocket or through donations from the community.”
Maestro J — a Port-au-Prince native-born James Racine — has been involved with similar community projects in Louisville. A University of Kentucky graduate who has played with both the UK Symphony and the Lexington Philharmonic, he currently works as orchestra and musical director at Kentucky Country Day School.
“We don’t do a lot of rehearsing,” Carama said “He knows my music, and we’ve performed together so much, so we want to keep an improv element to it. We really like to keep it fresh. We’ve got the outline of our set, but a lot of it is going to be improv and freestyle. That’s just kind of how we feel.”