Band of the Day

2011.10.20

Marques Toliver

A brilliantly unlikely combination of classical music and R&B
Stop me if you can, if you can, I'm about to explode.
lyrics from Charter Magic

Discovered while busking on the streets of New York City, Marques Toliver is an emerging R&B artist based out of London, England. Toliver, who has his roots in Tallahassee, Florida, began performing live on the streets of New York in between working shifts at a vintage clothes store. His first break came when Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio took him under his wing, introducing him to the music industry. In 2010, after moving to the UK with borrowed money from the singer Adele, he was invited to perform live on the popular UK television show Live With Jools Holland - an honor not usually bestowed upon unsigned musicians. He was inevitably signed by Bella Union Records, who released his debut EP record entitled Butterflies Are Not Free.

Walk through a subway station in New York, a town square in London, or a wharf in San Francisco, and you'll find a bevy of street performers all vying for the attention, and loose change, of passerby. Most people will stop and listen momentarily, before letting the music fade out as they continue on with their busy lives. But for singer and classically-trained violinist Marques Toliver, a former busker, all it took was one special person to stop and listen. While performing on the streets of New York, after moving up from his home state of Florida, his unlikely combination of classical music and smooth R&B caught the attention of Kyp Malone from TV On the Radio, who set Toliver up with time in a studio. Since then, he has performed and toured with indie acts like Grizzly Bear, Bat For Lashes, Wild Beasts, Holly Miranda, and James Blake (and has even found a fan in Adele, who's blogged about being obsessed with his music). Now, he's traded the streets of New York for the studios of London, having released his debut EP Butterflies Are Not Free on indie label Bella Union. It's only four songs long, but it’s dynamic enough to showcase the diversity of Toliver's unique sound (which he dubs “Bohemian noir”). “Deep In My Heart” will have you thinking you're in the middle of a forest at nighttime, with chirping cricket noises leading the path to a small chorus of voices singing “Deep in my heart I know it's right/The enemies, they try to break me.” A violin swoops in over a plucked autoharp, before sparkly beats pick up the rhythm. Toliver begins to serenade with an utterly smooth voice that effortlessly peaks up to the high notes of R&B greats like Marvin Gaye, to the sexy croon of Maxwell. “Sitting Up In My Room,” with its cinematically forlorn string opening, puts you in the scene of life as a busker. It's a misty night in an unknown city, a single streetlamp shining on a young troubadour, who's pouring out more of his heart with every single string that touches his bow. An acoustic guitar is deftly plucked, and as Toliver starts singing lines like, “Baby, please save me 'cause I don't wanna live this life alone,” you're snapped back into the world of contemporary R&B. While it's an unusual thing to hear classical music fused with soulful R&B, and it may take a few listens to get used to, Marques Toliver manages to break each genre out of its cage, bringing them together harmoniously without either one fighting for attention.