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

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALAN SCULLEY COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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.”

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