On Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m. a Grammy-nominated, classical meets hip-hop duo will be making its way to Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. Black Violin, which consists of Wil Baptiste, viola player, and Kev Marcus, violin player, will be continuing its “Impossible Tour” in Athens.
From South Florida, Black Violin encourages those of all ages, races and economic backgrounds to join together and enjoy their one-of-a-kind blend of classical and hip-hop music.
The Post sat down with Baptiste to talk about the duo’s journey, accomplishments and the upcoming performance at OU.
The Post: How did Black Violin start?
Baptiste: Black Violin started off with two individuals who went to high school together – that's Kevin and I. (We) went our separate ways in college and came back together, started producing and working with artists. We were classical majors and classical musicians. We wanted to incorporate classical music into popular music in a way that no one's ever done. So our dream and our goal was to be major producers like The Neptunes and Timbaland. We would perform with artists, (and) we started noticing how the crowd was always really focused on us, focused on what we're doing, even though we were in the background. We started noticing that and we started thinking to ourselves ‘Oh, maybe we should take this artist's route.’ Maybe because the idea of seeing a beat and hearing music and playing on top of it was something that we did for fun. It was not something that was difficult, so we didn't really think people really enjoyed that. So we started focusing on that and we started playing at the clubs in Miami. Just imagine having a good time at a club and you hear violins and the speakers, and these two Black guys walk around, play(ing) the violin. We did that for years to try to brand this new idea, this new sound. That's how it all started and over time we started getting recognition. We went on Showtime at the Apollo, in 2004 and just won everything, won the whole thing. I think for us it was like, ‘Oh this is actually – people really like this.’ We started focusing on the next move: what do we do? We started doing conferences. We started really putting our sound and our show out there. We started developing a show and performing. We’ve been just really grinding ever since, and trying to really convince the world that these two genres do belong together.
TP: Can you tell me a little bit more about how experiences, like selling out the Kennedy Center in 2018, solidified your music journey?
Baptiste: It's definitely one of those things that I guess solidifies as it relates to fans and people to a certain extent, but also to individuals or people with leverage and power that could possibly bring you on a bigger stage. But I think we knew what we had before that, we knew we had something special before. Before Kennedy Center, being able to play in front of that amazing crowd and that huge orchestra behind us, we knew we had something special before then. We were just grateful for the opportunity but also grateful to really continue to share this idea of breaking the mold and really expressing yourself the way that you want to. Which (with) classic music, there's very little room for that. It was really great to be able to do that and as we continue to grow and continue to brand new sound, continue to do great things, our main thing and our main objective is to be who we are at all times. No matter what it is, we're going to be who we are, we're going to project our sound the way that we want to. We're just fortunate that people seem to like it.
TP: Pre-pandemic, you were touring pretty extensively. Can you tell me how that looked?
Baptiste: We were coming from the West Coast. We normally do, around late January/February, a West Coast run – California, Washington, Portland area – away from all the snow and crazy weather. We were there when it hit. The first mention of COVID-19 was in Washington, and we were coming from there. We got back home and it kind of just blew up. We weren't able to go back, all the shows got canceled after the last week of February of 2020. Once we got home, we didn't think that we would have to cancel that quickly. It was very new for us, being home for a year and a half straight without touring was very different. We made the best of it – a lot of corporate online Zoom type of shows. We focused a lot more on our foundation, Black Violin Foundation, gave out a bunch of scholarships and did a lot of workshops with kids. We tried to make the best of the quarantine.
TP: Can you tell me more about Black Violin’s foundation?
Baptiste: The foundation right now, it's in its two years, so it's really relatively new. The whole goal is basically an extension of what we already do. Our wives run it. They pretty much run the day-to-day when it comes to foundation. We have three scholarships, or three initiatives. One is we want to be able to provide instruments to children or kids that are trying to get to college or trying to really get to that next level, they just need a really quality instrument. We want to also be able to provide funds for kids that are trying to go to music camp or something that will really elevate them but they just don't really have the funds for it. We also have another scholarship that we're working on, which specifically targets Black kids that are disproportionately not exposed to this art form and just don't have the means for this instrument. We're Black, we understand how difficult it is, so we really want to focus and be intentional about that specifically. But, obviously, we give out scholarships to anybody: any kids that we feel like this can really really help them. We want it to really specifically target kids of color that we feel just have that urge, have that talent, have the desire but just literally don't have the means. If you go to blackviolinfoundation.org, you can always find the information on how to apply for a scholarship. We're always accepting donations.
TP: Black Violin was nominated for a Grammy for your album, Take The Stairs. Can you explain how this made you feel?
Baptiste: It feels great, the Grammys have been around for 60 plus years, and as a musician and as an artist, you watch the Grammys and you see some of the great artists get Grammys. They walk across that stage and it's amazing. To be nominated was just like, ‘Wow, that’s great. People, our peers, see us to be recognized.’ It's amazing, and even though we didn't win, we didn't feel too bad because being nominated is awesome in itself.
TP: What do you hope to accomplish through your performances and your music?
Baptiste: I think for us, our music has a way of bringing people together. We notice that very early on, you got these two genres, classical and hip-hop, that in a lot of ways, when you're looking at it from the outside, don't seem to have anything in common. But they have a lot in common, more than you think. I think those two genres coming together, in the way that we're able to put it together, is able to kind of just pull people to it. You kind of get almost like a gumbo of ingredients. When you look into the crowd and look in the audience, there's just a lot of different kinds of people that are here enjoying this show that wouldn't necessarily be together otherwise. Our music does bring people together, and it's an amazing thing to see. I think for us, we're OK with that; we're OK bringing people together; we're OK with breaking stereotypes, breaking the idea of a person looking a certain way (or thinking) they have to do a certain thing. We want to be able to break all of that mold, and I think our music speaks to all those different things. And that's what we love doing. It’s more than just the music, it's a movement. We're just really, really happy to be able to do something that we love and make an impact at the same time.
TP: What advice would you give a college student wanting to pursue a music career but is nervous to do so?
Baptiste: What I would say is, it can be nerve-racking. When it comes to being a musician and artist, it's almost like, ‘How are you going to pay your bills?’ That's what everybody always thinks: people don't make money. I think, in anything you try to do, you shouldn't approach it in that way. Even if you become successful and you're making all this money, (that) is not going to necessarily bring you happiness and joy. Take it from everybody that has ever been famous or rich; they all say the same thing … Money and fame does not buy happiness. So as long as you love doing it and you enjoy music and you enjoy creating, let that be a driving force; let it be bigger than you. Once that happens, what happens is once you fall, you're going to get back up quicker than you realize. Because you're going to fall. In anything anyone does, the journey is the falling, and the falling is necessary to be able to get up and get to the next level. You’ve got to be able to fall, so don't be afraid of failing. How are you going to be successful if you just feel good every day? You have to have something that is going to push you, so don't run from that nervousness. Also, just be who you are. Be that artist. The world needs your voice.
TP: What can people expect from your performance on Oct. 20?
Baptiste: You can expect a show. Hopefully, it's a show that you’ve never, ever seen before. It's classical, it's hip-hop, it's high-energy, it’s loud, it's essentially a big hip-hop rock concert. But instead of guitars, you got violin. It's a fun-filled show that's very inclusive; anybody could come to the show. It doesn't matter how old you are: kids, adults, no matter who you are, your background, you're welcome. It's a very dynamic show, I would say. It can be emotional sometimes because our songs really pull that emotion out of your soul. If you want to experience something amazing, special, just come out. This is the show for you.