Black Violin thinks outside the Bachs

Feb 16, 2017

During Black History Month, WKAR will be exploring issues, events and perspectives involving the black experience.

They meld two seemingly diverse musical styles: classical music and hip hop. Meet one of the members of Black Violin, the string duo coming to the Wharton Center this Friday Night.


One of the things that surprised me the most about Wilner Baptiste was that he didn’t know many jokes about his instrument, the frequently put-upon viola. "In High school, I never got viola jokes until I went to competitions and people were saying that's and thought it was real corny. And I was like 'What?!'"

It was during High School in Florida when Wilner first met the other half of Black Violin, Kevin Sylvester. The two parted ways for a while during college but were drawn back together to try out this new collaboration… which left people puzzled at first.

We started playing and when people actually saw us playing, they just froze, you know? -Wilner Baptiste of Black Violin

"When we first started off, YouTube didn't exist, Twitter, Facebook. None of these things existed." says Baptiste. "So, 100% of the time when we performed back in the day no one knew who we were. So they, they're literally experiencing something for the very first time. They have no clue of that concept. There's nothing around that they can relate it to, you know? So a lot of the time, particularity in south Florida where we started performing in the clubs, and it was just, look at it just like... you know it's really like 'What am I looking at right now? You know did I have too much to drink? What am I looking at?'"

Now I think the idea and the sound is a bit more receptive. You know, there's a lot of groups that are out there kinda doing things that are similar. But the people are not so thrown off by it, so it's a good thing."

But of course, how does Black Violin create that good thing?

"In terms of creating and being creative, we try not to put ourselves in a box. You know what I mean?" says Baptiste "We just try to approach it with just complete, you know— 'cause you never know how something's going to turn out. What inspiration is going to come out of this song? You know, I mean cause if you hear it and you're like 'I don't think it's going to be anything' but you never know, you've got to keep at it, you know?"

For Wilner Baptiste, violist with Black Violin who’ll be playing the Wharton Center Friday night, the duo remembers their time in school and frequently use the visibility they’ve received from TV and stage appearances to visit schools and perform both for and with school orchestras.

"You see the kids, they're on stage, they're performing, they light up! - Wilner Baptiste of Black Violin

"'Cause we'll do a morning show, a 10 o'clock am show and the evening show around 7 or 8. And that morning show, they'll bus kids from the region to come out, you know what I mean? And just fill the theater up with kids. And we'll play for 'em for about an hour. We'll talk to them for a little bit. So that's one of the ways we try to really engage the community, try to get the parents to see the light, you know? Because you see the kids, they're on stage, they're performing, they light up! I think it's good for the parents to see, and it's great for the kids, they keep growing. They just feel like they can just do anything."

Wilner Baptiste and Kevin Sylvester play viola and violin, respectively and are collectively known as Black Violin. They play the Wharton Center this Friday Night at 8pm. Tickets at WhartonCenter.com with more information about the Black Violin Unity Tour online at blackviolin.net.