On 'Time To Shine,' Black Violin Focuses On The Light | Connecticut Public Radio
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On 'Time To Shine,' Black Violin Focuses On The Light

Feb 17, 2021
Originally published on February 17, 2021 8:37 am

Kev Marcus and Wil Baptiste — two artists from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — met 25 years ago, in a high school orchestra class. Growing up, neither one had had much exposure to classical music; both said their parents were more likely to listen to reggae or calypso. Classical music felt like it was supposed to be for other people, which had the effect of drawing them even closer to it. Today, they play as a duo, with Marcus on violin and Baptiste on viola.

Race and challenging assumptions about race is central to what Black Violin does: Outside of playing for fun or for creative expression, Marcus finds it particularly satisfying to disarm people who don't expect him to be a violin scholar. "The number-one reason I play violin," he says, "is because I'm not 'supposed to.' "

It's only fitting that the pair join Morning Edition Song Project for Black History Month, with an entry called "Time to Shine." When the pair was invited to participate in the series, Black Violin moved to write a song about where the nation is now. They titled it: "Time to Shine."

Black Violin spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about challenging stereotypes, finding creative space during lockdown and the collaborative nature of live audiences. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Rachel Martin: You have said in interviews before that breaking down stereotypes was your main agenda through your music. Can you talk about that?

Kev Marcus: Yeah. You know, I love playing the instrument. I love being able to express myself with another instrument. But just the idea that I do something that people are like, "What? You play the violin?" I just love it. I kinda got hooked onto it early with girlfriends' parents, and just being able to disarm them. "Yeah, I have a violin scholarship." Like, "You? Really?"

Because what? Because young Black guys aren't supposed to play the violin?

Marcus: Not even just young black guys. I'm a young Black guy [with] sagging pants, hip-hop listening, [Honda] Civic hatchback-driving. You know what I mean? I look like I should be playing football or basketball. But instead I play the violin at a high level. So, I felt that I was able to switch people's perceptions of who I was, just by telling them what I did. I didn't even have to play it for them.

I want to talk about the song that you've written. How did it come to be?

Marcus: It was funny because when you guys asked, I know, for me, I wasn't even in a really creative mindset in that way. When I heard I was like, "Agh! We're gonna write a song? Okay, about what?" And it's just about ... what we're thinking right now — a response to everything that's going on. And for me, soon as I heard that, I said, "silver linings." I was thinking about the good that has come through after all of this.

It's interesting, you say you just weren't in a creative space. I mean, Wil, was it the same with you? We're all living in isolation — quarantined with our families or alone and watching or participating in all the protests that were happening over the summer. Did that feed your creativity? Or did it leave you empty?

Wil Baptiste: Being creative is my outlet. It's my way of venting. And doing the song and going through the process ... there's just so much to say. There's a lot going on. So, how do we convey this in a way that, at the end of it, people feel inspired — people feel like, "Okay, here's the light at the end of the tunnel"?

Being in that space is always something I welcome, but I think processing last year and what's happening still, this year, it becomes — it almost feels like your hands are tied. Like, what do you do? You feel helpless.

What difference has it made for you to not have an audience? That platform that you had to talk to people about whatever it is you wanted to say through your music?

Marcus: Yeah, I think that's one of the things I miss the most, just being able to perform for a live audience and be able to heal together. It's the biggest difference. This virtual stuff is cool, but when we finish the song and don't hear the applause — it's just, you know, so weird! And I don't think us, as artists, realized how collaborative it really was until you take the audience away from us. We're able to truly have a conversation. We're able to talk to thousands of people in an artistic way and be able to, like I said, heal.

You say in the beginning of the song, "I'm trying to make sense of it all." And lots of us are. President Biden's election may have been a repudiation of some of the divisiveness of the Trump years, but there's still a lot of evidence that the country isn't ready to move on. I mean, how do you, as artists, absorb that and then try to, to focus on the light?

Baptiste: Man. It's a hard road. It's a long road. I mean, it's this huge mountain that we have to climb. I think that's what we've been doing for a long time. And you see it, you see it till this day. It's almost ... it's more divisive. It seems like it's more divisive, but ... it's really just more transparent. And as bad as it is, if these things didn't happen, how would we have known that there's this internal cancer within ourselves? The cut that's been there — you put a Band-Aid over it. But unless you rip it apart and expose what it is, how are you gonna fix it? How are you gonna address it? We have to do the work. We have to do the work.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This morning, we're bringing you another song written especially for us about the COVID era. It's our series, the MORNING EDITION Song Project. And today, we're talking to Black Violin. They're a classical/hip-hop duo from Fort Lauderdale.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK VIOLIN SONG, "STEREOTYPES")

KEV MARCUS: Hi, my name is Kev Marcus, one half of Black Violin.

WIL BAPTISTE: My name is Wil Baptiste, the other have of Black Violin.

MARTIN: Kev plays violin, Wil plays viola, and these guys go way back.

How'd you meet? Let's just start right there.

MARCUS: We met in high school in orchestra class 25 years ago.

MARTIN: Growing up, neither of these guys had a lot of exposure to classical music. Both said their parents were more likely to listen to reggae or calypso. Classical music felt like it was supposed to be for other people, which drew them closer to it.

You have said in interviews before that breaking down stereotypes was your main agenda through your music. Can you talk about that?

MARCUS: Yeah. The No. 1 reason I play the violin is because I'm not supposed to. That's how I think of it, you know. I love playing the instrument. I love being able to express myself with another instrument. But just the idea that I do something that people are like what? You play the violin, you know? I just love it, you know? And I kind of got hooked on to it early with, you know, girlfriends' parents and just being able to disarm them. Like, yeah, I have a violin scholarship. Like, you, really?

MARTIN: Because what? Because young Black guys aren't supposed to play the violin?

MARCUS: Like, not even just young Black guys. I'm a young Black guy, sagging pants, hip-hop listening, Civic Hatchback driving, like, you know what I mean? Like, I'm like, you know - like, I look like I should be playing football or basketball, but instead, you know, I play the violin at a high level. So I felt that we were - I was able to, like, switch people's perceptions of who I was just by telling them what I did. I didn't even have to play it for them.

MARTIN: Race and challenging assumptions about race is central to what Black Violin does. So we asked them to write a song about where we are as a country after everything that's happened over the past 12 months, from the pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protests to the assault on the U.S. Capitol. The song they came back with is called Time To Shine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME TO SHINE")

BLACK VIOLIN: (Singing) They say time changes everything and I'm trying to make sense of it all. We're all being tested, killed or arrested.

MARCUS: And it was funny because when you guys asked, I know, for me, I wasn't even in a really creative mindset in that way, you know? I really was, like, when I heard it, I was like, we're going to write a song? OK. About what? And it was just about, OK, about what we're thinking right now, just sort of a response to everything that's going on. And, you know, for me, as soon as I heard that, I said silver linings. I was thinking about, like, kind of the good that has come through after all of this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME TO SHINE")

BLACK VIOLIN: (Singing) This is our time to shine. Through all the struggles, we'll survive. Let's make a stand, do all we can, try to hold on.

MARTIN: It's interesting you say that you just weren't in a creative space. I mean, Wil, was it the same with you? I mean, we're all living in isolation and quarantined with our families or alone and watching or participating in all the protests that were happening over the summer. Did that feed your creativity or did it leave you empty?

BAPTISTE: Being creative is kind of my outlet, so it's my way of kind of like, you know, venting. And, you know, doing this song and going through the process, you know, there's just so much to say. There's a lot going on. So how do we convey this in a way that, at the end of it, people feel inspired, people to feel like, OK, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME TO SHINE")

BLACK VIOLIN: (Singing) So many people we've lost, and it seems like our nation is, too. Where do we go from here when all the trust is gone?

BAPTISTE: Being in that space is always something I welcome. But I think thinking and processing last year and what's happening still this year, you know, it becomes - you almost feel like your hands are tied. Like, what do you do, you know? You just feel like - you just - you feel helpless.

MARTIN: What difference has it made you to not have an audience, that platform that you had to talk to people about whatever it is you wanted to say through your music?

MARCUS: Yeah. I think that that's one of the things I miss the most is just being able to perform for a live audience and be able to heal together, you know? It's the biggest difference. I mean, this virtual stuff is cool, but when we finish the song and don't hear the applause, it just - you know, it's so weird.

MARTIN: Yeah.

MARCUS: And I don't think us as artists we realized how collaborative it really was until you take the audience away from us, you know? We're able to truly have a conversation. You know, we're able to talk to, you know, thousands of people in an artistic way and be able to, you know, like I said, like, heal.

MARTIN: Well, you say in the beginning of the song, I'm trying to make sense of it all. And lots of us are, right? And President Biden's election may have been a repudiation of some of the divisiveness of the Trump years, but there's still a lot of evidence that the country isn't ready to move on. I mean, how do you as artists absorb that and then try to focus on the light?

BAPTISTE: Man, it's - it's a hard road. It's a long road. I mean, it's more divisive. It seems like it's more divisive, but it's really - it's really just, you know, more transparent, you know? And as bad as it is, if these things didn't happen, how would we have known that there is this internal cancer within ourselves, you know what I mean? The cut that has been there, you know, you put a Band-Aid over it, but unless you rip it apart and and expose what it is, I mean, how are you going to fix it? How are you going to address it, you know? We have to do the work. We have to do the work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME TO SHINE")

BLACK VIOLIN: (Singing) How do our people move on? This is our time to shine.

MARTIN: The song is called "Time To Shine," written by Black Violin. And we've been talking with Kev Marcus and Wil B. of Black Violin. You guys, thank you so much for this song and for talking to me about it.

BAPTISTE: Thank you. Thank you for having us.

MARCUS: Appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK VIOLIN SONG, "TIME TO SHINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.