Classical and hip hop duo Black Violin mixes up musical genres
For classically trained viola player Wilner Baptiste, known onstage as Wil B., the success of his Grammy-nominated string duo Black Violin, formed in 2004, is easily explained.
“We were just two young guys who got into something new, and as we’ve been doing that, we tried to perfect it,” he said by phone from Miami, home base for him and violinist Kevin Sylvester, who goes by the stage name Kev Marcus.
The “something new” they got into was playing hip-hop music on traditional classical instruments.
“We do something unique that’s appealing to the masses,” Wil B. said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time now, and we’ve come across other string musicians who were influenced by what we’re doing.”
Black Violin performs Monday for the fourth time at Santa Rosa’s Luther Burbank Center. The duo has become a popular attraction at the venue. Their last show at the center was on Jan. 31, 2019. The act previously appeared there in 2016 and 2017.
“We’re excited about coming back,” Wil B. said. “If you’ve never been to one of our shows, it’s exciting for the audience, too.”
Kev Marcus and Wil B. met in orchestra class at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, getting classical music training through their high school and college years. After college, they worked with South Florida rappers and began building an audience in local clubs.
They later went on to win the “Showtime at the Apollo” competition in 2005 and eventually sold out headline performances at venues across the country, including a sold-out two-night headline run at The Kennedy Center in 2018.
The duo is noted for its collaborations with rappers and R&B musicians, including Alessia Cara, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne. They also have toured with Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, opened for the Wu-Tang Clan and composed the music for the Fox series “Pitch.”
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to that sort of teaming up.
“We don’t have any collaborations going on right now,” Wil B. said. “We want to try some more when we start on a new album. This summer, we’ll probably get back into the studio and record some new music.”
The duo’s fourth and most recent recording, a Christmas album titled “Give Thanks,” was in released in 2020 during the virus shutdown, which also precluded touring.
“It was definitely tough,” Wil B. said of the forced hiatus, “but we made the best of it, spending time with family and recording the Christmas album.”
Their previous album, “Take The Stairs,” was nominated for best contemporary instrumental album at the 2021 Grammy Awards.
One endeavor that was not halted by coronavirus was the duo’s work with their Black Violin Foundation, which reaches more than 100,000 students every year through free performances and working with youth symphonies, community centers and schools in low-income areas.
“Our foundation is about creating access for kids who have a passion for music. We’ve never stopped, even during the pandemic,” Wil B. said. “We did virtual workshops, and we’ll be doing even more live performances now that the schools are open.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at email@example.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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