Kevin Sylvester, aka “Kev Marcus,” and Wilner Baptiste, aka “Wil B,” are out to dismantle musical stereotypes.
The classically trained, Florida-based musicians behind the band Black Violin, who studied classical music in high school while immersing themselves in hip-hop, have found a way to combine both genres, ultimately sending a message to fans to think differently while helping people realize that preconceived notions around certain genres of music are silly assumptions. Part classical concert, part hip-hop club show and all rock concert, it’s a unique pairing of music and one of the few acts out there that can honestly display the tag of “one of a kind.”
Black Violin will perform Saturday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. Performing with Sylvester and Baptiste in Black Violin are Nat Stokes on drums and D.J. SPS on turntables.
“We just want everyone to think outside the box, do things differently and run to breaking stereotypes. We’re black guys that play violin; we took that part of us, the ‘how does the black person play the violin thing’ and went hard with it. That’s the thing that makes us different and that’s why it works,” Sylvester said. “If someone says, ‘You’re a girl so you shouldn’t do this,’ then you should be as feminine as possible doing whatever it is they say you shouldn’t do. So, we challenge people to break stereotypes and think differently, and hopefully after the show, that’s what you get, and you’re also educated, entertained and inspired and saw something that you didn’t know you needed in your life.”
Their formation dates back to a Fort Lauderdale High School and the orchestra class of Mr. Miles. Both Sylvester and Baptiste were heavily immersed in classical music, studying everything you’d expect to study in an orchestra class while messing around with making beats on the side. In college, the studying and musical exploration continued; classical was a huge part of their education and hip-hop a huge part of everyday listening life. Performing both was natural.
“When we perform, we mix Mozart with Cardi-B or Bach meets Notorious B.I.G., where you’ll hear something and maybe one person at the concert is listening to the strings and another person is listening to what the beat is doing,” Sylvester said. “It’s just who we are. We have classical degrees and we were doing auditions and trying to get an orchestra job, but we were also making beats. So, it wasn’t until we put them together and saw how people reacted, that’s when we decided to put everything into it. And we’ve been doing it now for 16 years solid, so it’s been quite the journey.”
That journey began with them winning $20,000 on “Showtime at the Apollo” while booking upwards of 150 shows a year, which includes festival dates, theater and club shows, and performances and classes in schools nationwide. They’ve also knocked out four records, the latest being “Take the Stairs,” which came out in late 2019.
The overall mission of Black Violin is to break stereotypes and let listeners realize that all music – classical to hip-hop or reggae to barbershop, is connected.
“It’s one of those things that before you hear it, it’s hard to imagine what it sounds like, but trust me, it’s well received and it’s something for everybody. And you’ll see and hear something that you’ve never seen or heard before. It’s that concert that when you ask people, ‘What’s your favorite kind of music?’ and they say, ‘I like a little bit of everything.’ We’re perfect for that.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.