Black Violin brings its musical mash-ups to the Walker Theatre.
Two classically trained violinists bridge the chasm between Beethoven and Drake through music mash-ups
Kevin Sylvester — known as Kev Marcus in the duo Black Violin — has been looking for a new home in a community near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He’s gotten a few laughs from the process.
“The Dolphins training facility is like f ive minutes from where we’re moving,” said Sylvester, who is 6 feet, 2 inches, and a muscular 275 pounds. “So every place I go, every Realtor thinks I play for the Dolphins … This Realtor yesterday [asked] ‘So, are you playing for the Dolphins? What are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m actually a violinist.’ I love that moment when they’re just not expecting that.”
Marcus’ counterpart in Black Violin, Wil Baptiste (Wil B.), is also classically trained and also 6 feet, 2 inches, although more of a slender build. They relish the idea that they’re breaking stereotypes — not just that they don’t look like typical violinists, but in the ways they bring together classical, hip-hop, soul and pop in their music.
The seeds for the musical path they’re pursuing sprouted in high school, when Marcus incorporated violin into the Busta Rhymes song “Gimme Some More.”
“I had a Sony Ericsson phone that you programmed the ringtone,” Marcus said. “So when I figured out the notes, I put it in the phone. When my phone rang in orchestra class, the ringtone started playing. My teacher took my phone from me and then gave it back at the end of the class. After class, my friends were like, ‘How do you do that? Did you download that?’ People were just blown away that my phone made that song.”
That song stuck with Marcus and Baptiste. But before they could really explore and establish the hybrid of classical and hiphop, fate intervened. Looking to make their own break, the two flew to New York in 2004 to compete on “Showtime at the Apollo.”
“The Apollo told us we needed to be there for a week, because if we won the show, then we’d need to come back the next day and perform again, and then the next day and perform again,” Marcus explained.
“But when we went, we ended up winning the first show at 12:30, then we won the next show at 4:30 and then the next show at 7:30. We won all three shows, and once you win three shows, you have to come back for the finals. So we won all three shows in one day and we had six more days in New York City.”
Wanting to take advantage of the time, they contacted their manager. He had become friends with the manager of Alicia Keys, and that led to Keys hiring Marcus and Baptiste for a perfor- mance on the 2004 “Billboard Music Awards.”
That opened the door for a series of jobs performing in touring bands of several notable acts, including Kanye West, Jay-Z and Linkin Park, as well as Keys.
Eventually, though, Marcus and Baptiste decided to focus on Black Violin.
“Alicia Keys and the whole ‘ us being part of a band for a major artist,’ that kind of took off before we were able to establish what Black Violin was,” Marcus said. “So we actually had to stop taking gigs with the artists in order to develop ourselves. It was one of the hardest things we had to do, because we made great money playing with these artists.”
Since then, Black Violin has released three albums: “Black Violin” ( 2008), “Classically Trained” ( 2012) and “Stereotypes” (2015). The latter album showed considerable growth musically, as the synthesis of classical violin and hip- hop (with bits of pop and soul filtered in) became more seamless and dynamic.
The duo is finishing a new album, which is planned for release in February. Marcus sees further musical development and noted that Baptiste has really grown as a lead vocalist.
“I’m just really excited about showcasing Wil’s vocals more, but still keeping the violin lush and beautiful and still making it something that shouldn’t go together. We’ve found ways of making it harmonious and digestible to anyone, whether you love Mahler and Beethoven or you love Drake and Kanye West,” Marcus said. “That’s always been our calling card and we’re sticking with that, but we’re just spreading the genre out a little bit more.”
Marcus said Black Violin is previewing some of the new songs on tour. Marcus (on violin) and Baptiste (on viola and vocals) will be joined by drummer Nat Stokes and turntablist extraordinaire DJ SPS.
“The four of us combine to really give a show that [thrilling experience]. We can basically guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it,” Marcus said.
Black Violin is the duo of Wil B., left, and Kev Marcus. They’ve played with Alicia Keys, Wynton Marsalis, Elvis Costello and Aerosmith. They performed at Barack Obama’s second inauguration and they scored an episode of “CSI: New York.”