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Classical 101

"Everyone's Connected. It's Just Joy:" An Interview with Black Violin's Wil Baptiste

Black Violin
Black Violin members, from left: Kevin Sylvester (Kev Marcus) and Wil Baptiste (Wil B)

I know you're all about classical. But I’m guessing that you might be at least a little bit funky, too.

Good thing, then, there’s Black Violin — the classically trained violin-viola duo who blend classical and hip-hop music to create a sound that’s equal parts Bach and backbeat.

“Beautiful, beautiful strings and a hard-hitting beat. That’s our, like, secret recipe, so to speak,” said violist Wilner Baptiste (who goes by the stage name Wil B), describing the unique sound that he and violinist Kevin Sylvester (Kev Marcus) have created with Black Violin.

As part of the duo's Classical Boom Tour, Black Violin will perform as featured artists with the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15 in Newark’s Midland Theatre.

On a program that will also feature classical masterworks by American composers Leonard Bernstein and Jack Gallagher, Black Violin will join the orchestra in covers of other popular artists’ music and in some of their own works, including their Bach-inspired signature tune “Brandenburg” and numbers from their most recent recording, Stereotypes.

If a classical masterwork like Bernstein’s "Candide Overture" and a hip-hop remix of one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos seem like surprising bedfellows, that’s precisely the point.

“Ultimately, I think the way that we approach our music now, we kind of bridge this gap,” Baptiste said. “We kind of bring it all together. It’s almost like, how is this even possible? How is classical and hip-hop — how are they even able to communicate? 

“We’re able to do that,” Baptiste continued, “and I think what that does is kind of give people this new idea that anything is possible. These two genres that seem complete opposites are somehow having dinner together and having a good time together.”

And, in the process, Baptiste says Black Violin’s melding of classical music and hip-hop is bringing people of all backgrounds and tastes together and causing many to rethink stereotypes and other assumptions about race and culture.

“We’re like a walking billboard when it comes to the whole idea of stereotypes,” Baptiste said. “When you see me in the streets, if you see me walking, if you see me in the elevator, you’re not going to assume I play the violin. For us, we don’t shy from that — we take advantage of that.

"And particularly when we’re on stage, we love to shatter your perception of what you think you’re going to hear,” Baptiste continued. “In terms of just what a violin is able to do, what a black person’s able to do — we love being able to just shatter whatever you thought you were going to hear, what you thought you were going to experience.” 

In the interview above, hear Baptiste talk about what he calls Black Violin’s “organic” beginning, why he doesn’t describe Black Violin as either hip-hop or classical, what he thinks about the future of classical music and how Black Violin is connecting with the next generation of music lovers.

Black Violin performs with the Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15 at Newark’s Midland Theatre.

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Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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