Black Violin

Black Violin• March 29, 2023• Eccles Theater

Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe

Black Violin is a hip-hop duo from Florida.  The two members of the group are Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, both classically trained string instrumentalists. Will B plays the viola and Kev Marcus plays the violin.  I had only heard of the group but before the show, I had not heard their music.  What I was told is that they mix classical music and hip-hop into their show.  And that was exactly what they did.  I was excited to see and hear what this type of show was like.  It did not disappoint.  Black Violin was joined on stage by DJ SPS and drummer Nat Stokes.

The concert took place at Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.  Five years on it’s still one of Utah’s newest venues and easily one of its finest.  Kev Marcus even said at the end of the night how great it was to play in such a nice theater.  “It seems new” Kev exclaimed.  It feels brand new. The sound is excellent, the seats are comfortable, and the staff, from the ushers to the box office and security are always very kind. I love covering shows at Eccles.  As the crowd rolled in I could tell that some of them had never been inside the impressive venue before.  They looked around with their eyes bugged out.  It was fun to see people enjoying their debut show at the theater.

The first thing I noticed as the show began was how cool Black Violin’s setup was.  The backdrop was a huge panel of lights that could change into any color, design, and even words.  Black Violin took the stage and despite the lights and effects, they were both very unassuming.  They seemed excited to be there and to be playing.  They opened the show with “Unbreakable”.  I was quickly impressed with how skilled these men were with their instruments.  It was so cool to watch Wil B play his viola like a guitar. Wil B also impressed the audience with his vocals.  He has an amazing voice and since I didn’t know what to expect, I did not know he was going to be singing like that.  It was a great surprise for me.

When Kev Marcus wasn’t killing it on the violin, he was the one talking to and hyping up the crowd.  He told us that the duo met in high school orchestra class.  He said they had a love and appreciation for classical music but they also loved hip-hop and other contemporary music so they explored merging them together.  Kev Marcus invited us to use flash photography and to feel free to get up and dance.  While I don’t recall seeing any flash photography, I definitely saw groups of people here and there throughout the show getting up and dancing.  As the show went on people definitely felt more comfortable getting up on their feet and dancing.

Some highlights for me were Black Violin’s arrangement of “Devil Went Down To Georgia.”  They added a hip-hop style to it and it was a version unlike any I had heard.  Wil B spoke the lyrics and Kev Marcus handled the fiddling.  I could see heads bobbing to the beat throughout the theater.  I loved their classical playing in “Serenade”.  As the duo played their instruments beats started to join them.  The song went from a classical piece to a full on hip hop piece.  It was surprisingly a seamless transition.  

I’d have to say the highlight of the evening was when Black Violin improvised an entire piece. Kev Marcus told us where they’re from they call it Freestyle.  “Can we freestyle for you guys?” he asked.   He told us to get our cameras out because the song they were about to hear would not be like any song they’ve done or will ever do.  It started with simple plucking on the viola by Wil B.  Then the drums came in.  Then Kev Marcus came in with the melody on his violin.  Sure enough keys by Liston Gregory and some DJing by DJ SPS.  They went on as if this was a fully arranged and rehearsed piece.  I was so impressed! And the second the song was finished, Black Violin received a huge standing ovation.  They made it look so easy.  But a freestyle like that is not easy at all.  

Each member of the band had their time to shine. Whether they were on the stage by themselves or backed by just one other member of the band.  I really enjoyed the keyboard solo by Liston Gregory.  DJ SPS thrilled the audience with his beats during his featured set.  The show resumed with the full band with another symphonic/ hip-hop mashup of a piece from the” Brandenburg Concerto”.

Kev Marcus took to the mic again to give a motivational speech.  We cheered when he shared that the duo are two-time Grammy nominees.  He told young musicians to “Practice, practice, practice”.  He told us that these violins gave them college scholarships.  Kev Marcus told the audience that everybody thinks this show is about the violin.  “This show ain’t about the violin.  This show is about thinking outside the box and eliminating stereotypes.” 

He told us when they were kids they were asked, “Why do you play the violin, the viola, what is that?  Why don’t you play basketball or something like that?” “Everybody was already doing that so, yall go ahead and do that.  Watch what we do with these violins.  If you are passionate about something and somebody tells you that you can’t, use that fuel to prove them wrong.”  He encouraged the audience to find the thing that they love and do it.  It was an inspiring moment and I could tell that the audience was moved by the speech.  

Things rose to a new level when Black Violin did a medley of covers.  “Poison” by Bel Biv Devoe and “Apache” by Sugar Hill Gang got the Eccles Theater crowd on their feet.  I don’t think they sat back down for the rest of the show.  Black Violin finished their main set with “Virtuoso”.  People were dancing and having so much fun.  What made me laugh were people who weren’t quite sure what this show was about.  They must have expected something different.  Maybe a straight up classical concert.  They seemed so confused yet they couldn’t resist standing up and dancing.  

The night ended with one of the most embraced songs of the night, “Impossible is Possible”.  Wil B got the crowd clapping along to the beat while Kev Marcus played the violin with a huge smile on his face.  The lyrics of the song say

There’s a moment when you realize 
All the things they said to us were lies
It’s time to open up your eyes
Cause we were made to fly
We can do anything

Cause we got the fire
We got the fire
Show the world the impossible is possible
Show the world the impossible is possible

Wil B shouted out, “Clap your hand if you believe it!”.  The audience clapped and cheered and sang out “The impossible is possible” as loud as they could.  It was such an uplifting song and a great way to end the evening.  I’m not sure if Black Violin has played Utah before this.  I hope we made a good enough impression on them to have them back.

2 Replies to “Black Violin”

  1. Saw Black Violin in Milwaukee last night and agree totally with this review. Had seen them on PBS, but had to wait 5 years for a nearby concert. I hope to be able to see them again! Superb entertainment and inspiration. As a teacher, I especially appreciate their work with students as they tour!

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