Much like the ways their instruments interact on stage, Wil’s creative collaborator Kev Marcus echoes this theme, and then expands it.
“We had a wall that we wrote stuff on,” says Wil Baptiste, describing the process that led to Black Violin’s new album, Take the Stairs. “We had all the ideas about what story we were going to convey. And it kept coming back to the idea of hope—songs that spoke about going against the grain, carrying through struggle, being optimistic. We wanted to say, ‘it’s tough now, but hang in there.’ ”
Much like the ways their instruments interact on stage, Wil’s creative collaborator Kev Marcus echoes this theme, and then expands it. “Hope is the thread that keeps this thing together, it’s the heartbeat of this album,” he says. “But then a lot of tentacles went different ways—the song ‘Impossible is Possible’ is about challenging people. So it went different directions from just being hopeful, we took it a little further.”
The first single released ahead of Take the Stairs was the timely and inspiring “Dreamer,” with a message that was immediately embraced by several commercial campaigns. “This is the day when I go all the way/I make it my own/Here’s to the dreamers,” sings Wil. “That just really hit home,” says Kev. “It got to the heart of what we’re about.”
Indeed, Black Violin’s work extends far beyond the stage, reaching deep into urban communities with numerous free performances for students and hands-on engagement with youth symphonies and community centers. Through the TurnAround Arts program, Wil and Kev connect with more than 100,000 students throughout the year, mostly at low-income and Title 1 schools, and adopted Bethune Elementary, in Florida’s Broward County (near where they grew up) to initiate an ongoing mentorship program.
Wil says that Black Violin isn’t always explicit with its message, but that they don’t have to be—that the creation of an audience that is multi-generational, ethnically and economically diverse, is a powerful statement of its own. “The stereotypes are always there, embedded so deep in our culture,” he says. “Just by nature of our existence—the Idea that these black guys who could be football or basketball players are playing the violin—we challenge those ideas. It’s a unique thing that brings people together who aren’t usually in the same room, and in the current climate, it’s good to bring people together.”
It’s all wrapped up in the name of the album. “For sixteen years, we’ve slowly been taking the stairs,” says Kev. “It’s a gradual kind of snowball where now we have control, we can tour in Alaska—we took the hard way for so many years, now we can look back and see what we’ve learned.
“You’ve got to work hard to get what you want. But you shouldn’t be looking for the easy way, anyway, because the hard way is where the real lessons are.”