Upstate Beat: Black Violin’s mix of classic and hip-hop genres meant to inspire, educate and unite

When South Florida friends and schoolmates Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste started making music together in the early 2000s, there was no real precedent for what they were doing. Both men are classically trained; Sylvester plays the violin and Baptiste plays the viola. But like their alter egos, Wil B and Kev Marcus, they brought hip-hop music into the mix and created a new sound.

Their duo is called black violin, and they make stunning, uplifting music, full of catchy melodies, dazzling violin and viola work, and hip-hop beats. They create something new from familiar musical genres on albums like 2015’s “Stereotypes”, 2012’s “Classically Trained” and their most recent album, “Take The Stairs”.

“We have a platform. And when you have a platform, you can do whatever you want with it. – Kevin Sylvester aka Kev Marcus

We could reasonably call them pioneers, even if Kev Marcus sees things a little differently.

“We were just trying to do something different,” he says. “I think now, looking back, there was a lot of upside to that, because we were in our own space, so to speak. In the beginning, we were trying to convince everyone of this thing that they had never seen before. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing that we lived in a space that we created for ourselves, and no one could ever take it from us, and it continues to be that way today.

When Black Violin takes the stage at the Peace Center next Thursday, they’ll do so with a DJ, keyboardist, drummer and a finely-honed live show.

“It’s a five-piece band with a synchronized light show,” Kev explains. “It’s not just the band; there’s a pretty big production element that’s in sync with everything we do. Ultimately, we want people to be educated, entertained and inspired. We want you to leave the concert exalted.

Black Violin’s drive to be inspiring doesn’t just end with their live show and music. They’re also decidedly positive in their lyrical outlook, as indicated by song titles like “Rise,” “Unbreakable,” and “Impossible Is Possible.”

“We have a platform,” says Kev, “and when you have a platform, you can do whatever you want with it. It can be for making party music or dance music. We choose to make music that inspires people. Our existence is inspiring, so it would be counter-intuitive if our music wasn’t as well. So that’s what we think about when we make music: how can we leave you in a better state than when we found you? These are songs that are meant to pick you up.

Photo by Mark Clennon

Both members of Black Violin are aware that there aren’t many other musicians like them, which is why they work extensively with music students across the country, both with their Black Violin Foundation and teaching classes and workshops.

“The best thing we do is give back to students, and we do that in different ways,” says Kev. “We distribute scholarships through our foundation. Last year we distributed 18 scholarships, this year we hope to distribute many more. We have instrument orders with our foundation, we do diversity and equity inclusion events. Sometimes we play children’s shows, and children are bussed in from all over the county. For some children, it’s their very first concert, their first real concert, we plant a seed there.

And after nearly 20 years of blending beautiful classical music with hard-hitting hip-hop, Grammy-nominated Black Violin’s dedication is paying off, not just for themselves, but for others.

“I think there are many others who have been inspired by it,” says Kev. “We just had a meeting with a young student from Western Carolina University, he’s a black electric violinist who plays in the marching band. He came across our music years ago and he’s doing something similar, just trying to break the stereotype. You would never think of a violinist in a marching band, let alone a black violinist. So I think what we’re doing has a ripple effect across the country and around the world. People are inspired by what we do. It’s an incredible thing.

Thursday February 17
peace center
300 S. Main St, Greenville