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If you’re into rocking out to a genre-blending synthesis of hip-hop, pop and classical music with people of all ages and backgrounds, a Black Violin show might be the move.
The sonically eclectic Black Violin consists of violinist Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, who plays the viola. The duo, who call themselves Wil and Kev on stage, aim to bridge the gap between classical music and hip-hop.
“We want to show people not to judge a book by its cover while creating something that is musically interesting and carries a message. The message is that it doesn’t matter who you are. If you want to do something, do it,” said Baptiste.
Baptiste said that to many people, they don’t “look like” classically trained musicians. He feels that if their skills cause audiences to do a double take and view a pair of Black men in a new light, they are one step closer to their goal of breaking down the stereotypes that keep the world divided. The music video for their song “Stereotypes” does an amazing job of highlighting this message. It includes powerful images, ranging from Black doctors and athletes, to police brutality and Black Lives Matter protesters.
The pair met in high school and as teens, they were both reluctant to embrace their musical inclinations. Today, they have a passion for youth and take part in educational workshops at nearly every stop on tour.
“We hope to inspire young people to push the envelope and break the boundaries they have been given. If someone is telling you that you shouldn’t do something, use that as fuel to do it. It’s not always the most talented who succeeds; it’s the person who works the hardest. A lot of these things are somewhat cliche, but it doesn’t mean it’s not true. We try to plant seeds into the minds and spirits of all of these kids, ” said Baptiste.
The seeds they are planting are taking root all over the world as the group continues to share their message with new audiences. They have performed for the troops in Iraq and for President Obama. They have toured the United States and Europe and have performed with Linkin Park, the Wu-Tang Clan and Alicia Keys.
The hope Baptiste has is that audiences will leave the show with a renewed sense of unity.
“You will see a young 25-year-old hip-hop head and an 80-year-old grandmother right next to each other enjoying the concert,” said Baptiste. “We have too much division in this country. We need to have empathy for each other to see each other’s beauty. We try to bring different places, races and ages together and have everyone enjoying great music, vibing and taking in a new sound.”