NJ.com: “Hip Hop Meets Classical. Black Violin Makes it Work”

February 27 2019

Read NJ.com’s feature story on Black Violin’s origins and style of music, as well as their performance at MPAC Thursday, May 16th!

 

NJ.com: “Hip Hop Meets Classical. Black Violin Makes it Work”

by Natalie Pompilio

Wilner Baptiste — one half of Black Violin, the genre-busting duo whose classical training infuses collaborations with stars including Kanye WestCardi B, Aerosmith and Wu Tang Clan – actually plays the viola. As he’ll tell you, that’s a lot cooler and way sexier.

“Viola’s little taller, a little thicker, a little deeper. It sounds better,” Baptiste said. “It’s real cool, real mellow. The viola’s just chillin’. Nobody really knows who the viola is. The viola’s not out there trying to get on Instagram to take all those selfies.

“That’s what the violin does, tries to be in the spotlight. But that’s cool. That’s its way.”

Baptiste and musical partner/violinist Kevin Sylvester are passing through New Jersey this week, performing at the Shea Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 14.  The band will return to the Garden State in May, performing at the Mayo Center for the Performing Arts on May 16. The band performs with a DJ and a drummer.

Baptiste and Sylvester – a.k.a. Wil B and Kevin Marcus – call their sound “classical boom.” Imagine if Hip-hop and Classical married and their nosy neighbors, Jazz, Funk and R&B, were constantly coming over, butting in, getting into their business. That description someone hints at the band’s sound.

“Tell people to expect the unexpected,” Baptiste said. “Even if you’ve seen videos online or on YouTube, it’s still an experience.”

The pair met at their Broward County, Florida high school. Sylvester has said his mother forced him to take music classes because she feared he was hanging out with a bad crowd. Baptiste originally wanted to play saxophone – but his school’s orchestra director put a viola in his hand. After graduating, the pair went their separate ways but both ended up staying in the state — Sylvester went to Florida International University while Baptiste enrolled at Florida State University.

The pair reconnected during their college years and decided to collaborate. Their band name, “Black Violin,” is taken from an album by African-American jazz violinist Stuff Smith, another genre-busting performer perhaps best known for his song “If You’re a Viper.” Both performers cite Smith as an inspiration.

“This hip-hop classical thing was us. It was different, and it’s cool to take something people think they know and make it different,” Baptiste said. “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

The pair knew they were on to something when they won the 2005 “Showtime at the Apollo” “Legends” title. The band has released three studio albums, the most recent being 2015’s “Stereotypes,” and shared the stage with the likes of Alicia Keys and Aerosmith. In 2013, Black Violin headlined one of President Barack Obama’s inaugural balls.

Baptiste still loves playing classical music but “but I really love just doing me, just doing whatever. … We are taking a classical piece and flipping it on its head and doing something that makes people say, ‘Whoa….'”

After performing together for so many years, Baptiste said he and Sylvester are in tune, musically.

“Our sound has evolved. In a way we’re free-er,  able to express ourselves even more. we understand more,” Baptiste said. “As you grow as an artist, you understand yourself more and it allows you to be more carefree and experiment more without really thinking.

“Classical music has been pigeon-holed for so long. We try to challenge that.”

BLACK VIOLIN – IMPOSSIBLE TOUR

Mayo Performing Arts Center

100 South St., Morristown

Tickets: $29-59, available online at https://www.mayoarts.org. May 16.

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Mayo Performing Arts Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, presents a wide range of programs that entertain, enrich, and educate the diverse population of the region and enhance the economic vitality of Northern New Jersey.

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