The history book of African-American music is due for a revision since the advent of Black Violin. Rhythms of Africa echo across the Atlantic and are reverberated by the sounds of the Caribbean. Bebop meets hip hop while Bach meets Biggie and the beat goes on.
Two black kids in Florida were forced to learn strings and become masters; masters enough to earn scholarships. Kev Marcus went to Florida International University and Wil-B attended Florida State University. When they banded together after college, a new genre of music was created.
See their creation, Black Violin at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on June 19.
I caught up with Wil by phone for an interview.
Kev (born Kevin Sylvester) and Wil (Wilner Baptiste), both originally from the Caribbean Islands, became friends in orchestra class at the Dillard High School of Performing Arts in Florida.
“I remember being the only black kid in orchestra,” Wil said.
Both learned their instruments against their choice. Kev’s mother made him learn violin after he got in trouble. Wil wanted to play saxophone but was put in viola class by mistake. But they made the best of it.
The music of Black Violin springs from many sources.
“Our music is influenced not so much by Cuban but by other parts of the Caribbean,” Wil said. “Reggae and calypso definitely have an influence.”
Classical themes are other building blocks in the music of Black Violin. Strains of Beethoven and Mozart highlight their work.
“Another one of our favorite composers is Dmitri Shostakovich,” Wil said.
A little-known jazz performer known as Stuff Smith became the first to use electric amplification techniques on a violin. He performed with many of the jazz greats from the ’30s and ’40s. Later, Smith would perform with younger musicians like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sun Ra.
“Stuff Smith was a popular violinist in the 1950s,” Wil said.
Smith’s fusion of swing, big band, and jazz resonated with the young duo.
“He had an album entitled, “Black Violin,” which was our inspiration,” Wil said.
But other combinations add to the musical composition of Black Violin. Such is the case when Bach meets Biggie.
“It’s a beautiful marriage,” Wil said. “No one does it like Black Violin does it. We listened to hip hop growing up so it seemed natural to blend them together.”
Collaborations come naturally for Black Violin. “In 2004, we accompanied Alicia Keys at the Billboard Awards,” Wil said. “We met Quincy Jones and others.”
“We’d like to work with Lauryn Hill, the Dave Matthews Band, Kendrick Lamar, Nas, and Earth, Wind and Fire,” he added.
Wil discussed how Black Violin creates their songs and how they decide which songs they will cover.
“It happens different ways,” he said. “Sometimes I come up with a beat. Or together we come up with a melody. Every song has a story. An album is like a book. Every chapter must be cohesive.”
Their upcoming album will be such a book.
“On September 18, our new album, “Stereotypes” will be released,” Wil said. “The songs on that album embody that message.
“Black Violin is everything,” he said. “It encompasses everything about music and the way we dress. We are artists that challenge the mind and stereotypes.”
Black Violin played the Carver Community Cultural Center several years back. Now they have a new DJ and their music is tighter than ever.
*Featured/top image: Kev and Wil play their instruments. Photo courtesy of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.