A ‘melting pot of influence’: Black Violin is inspired by musical styles ranging from classical to hip-hop
When Kev Marcus, one half of Grammy-nominated duo Black Violin, reflects on their journey, he always cites his ability to be new.
A black man with the build of an American football linebacker, his innate desires to play the viola and fiddle soothe his inner world but cause friction on the outside. But that, he says, is just an opportunity.
“Wil and I thought being tall and black with droopy pants and still playing the viola, we always thought that was good and nobody else did, and we’re going to show you how we do that. let’s do,” Marcus said.
Marcus and Wil B, whose birth names are Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, display that same laid-back passion for their own music as they embark on a cross-country tour for their latest album, “Take the Stairs.” to critical acclaim, making a stop at Fox’s Martin Woldson Theater on Thursday night.
“We created this thing from scratch that is so unique and different and specific to us,” Marcus said. “It’s just such a blessing.”
The pair met on their first day at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, during an introduction and viola class. Baptiste, an aspiring horn player, was in the wrong class, but he stayed anyway. During training, the pair became stand partners. Both are Afro Caribbean. Marcus’ family is originally from Dominica and Baptiste was born in the Bahamas but is of Haitian descent. Now the two are inseparable partners in business, passion and purpose.
“Our families and our cultures are similar, so we connect to music in the same way,” Marcus said. “We were studying classical music and then listening to hip-hop and reggae soul at home, so we both have the same melting pot of influences. I think it allows us to create music very cohesively between the two of us.
They officially started as Black Violin in 2004. The duo are the two fierce violinists in Alicia Keys’ 2004 Billboard Music Awards live band performance. In 2005, they were honored with the black culture seal of approval, winning the Legends category at Showtime at the Apollo. (To measure what moves this tough Harlem crowd: It’s the same audience that booed Luther Vandross, Gladys Knight and nervous teenager Lauryn Hill offstage.)
Since then, Black Violin has been part of modern music, composing the score for Fox’s “Pitch” and touring with the Wu-Tang Clan and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. The couple have even parted ways on occasion to work on individual projects, hosting string selections for artists like 2Chainz, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West. For Marcus, the band is a “brotherhood of two,” a testament to music’s ability to unite cultures and people.
“Even looking back, we remember eating ramen noodles in our college dorms and ordering this big pot of fried rice instead of Chinese to feed 16 performers in one session,” said Marcus. “That’s one of the beauties I have with Wil: we have so many shared experiences. And one day one of us will speak at another’s funeral because we’re so bonded. It is a brotherhood deeper than blood.
Their chemistry bleeds into their music. With the help of powerhouse producer Salaam Remi, “Take the Stairs” is a well-rounded masterpiece, an 11-track journey to further the story of fame, perseverance and success. .
The opening song “Rise” sounds like the opening of a Disney-Pixar movie beginning with sunrise. If the song is in color, the album cover is as much about the visual representation as the auditory experience. String ensembles hum with an orange-scarlet vibe, setting the listener up for a pleasant ride in understanding the instinct and creativity behind Black Violin’s goal.
The cover of the album “Take the Stairs” is a diagonal gradient from yellow to red, a metaphor for brilliant beginnings before one settles in their deep and reassuring passions.
The project is a hopeful album that shines with inspiration and the excitement of new beginnings. Marcus strongly resonated with this, explaining that Black Violin had just left their major label before they started recording “Take the Stairs”. As an independent duo, taking the stairs is not just a command to follow their dreams but an affirmation that the destination could be reached regardless of strategy.
“We wanted everything to feel and sound and spark hope because there’s so much of everything else,” Marcus said. “We wanted ‘Take the Stairs’ to be a feel-good album. You know how you go back to the Bible and re-read it? This is because such material is nurturing, not just entertaining. We wanted it to be a meal, not a snack.
Although Snarky Puppy, another fusion instrumental ensemble group, won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 63rd Grammy Awards, the nomination is a testament to the fact that Black Violin has gone their own way.
“We wanted to do what we call ‘violin acrobats’ and push the boundaries,” Marcus said. “Rather, we wanted to have lyrics that say something about hope and create chords that do. Do this after leaving a major? There is a validation there that is so sweet.
But this process also takes place offstage. As public schools face dwindling resources for arts programs, Black Violin has created a nonprofit organization that champions music programs and encourages children of color, especially black children, to thrive in a profession that has historically excluded them.
The Black Violin Foundation Inc. seeks to “enable young people to think outside the box” and “invest in promising young musicians”. The foundation’s inaugural program is offering 20 students $2,500 scholarships that will foster “musical creativity and innovation.”
Students can choose between private lessons, summer music camps and university courses. The duo are also hands-on, leading diversity and inclusion seminars with school principals and organizing instrumental readers for children who cannot afford them. The foundation is led by their wives, Anne Sylvester and Corryn Freeman, in Cooper City, Florida.
“Our greatest accomplishment is the Black Violin Foundation,” Marcus said. “It will live beyond us, and starting something that has that kind of reach is an extension of our creative arms.”
Black Violin will have 35 more towns to entertain after its downtown stop. But, as “Take the Stairs” suggests, Black Violin is here for the long haul, grateful for the opportunity to travel and inspire everyone along the way.
“I’m going to get on this stage tonight and, man, it’s sold out here, and 2,700 people come to see these two black kids play the violin,” Marcus said ahead of Black Violin’s Atlanta show at Cobb Energy Performing Arts. Center. “See what we were able to do and create a show in itself? I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by it all and by what we’ve been able to build.