Milwaukee’s hip-hop DNA is about beats, rhymes and cross-cultural understanding | WUWM 89.7 FM

For anyone who’s ever freaked out upon discovering the original song sampled from a hip-hop track, or even anyone who just loves to celebrate community and culture, there’s an event for you on Saturday night. Hip Hop DNA returns Saturday night October 1, 2022, for the first time since its premiere in 2019.

The performance will feature over 40 artists at the Marcus Center for the Arts, including a 12-person band, in a live exploration of the various influences that make up hip hop music. One goal is to uplift communities and cultures that are otherwise misunderstood or underrepresented.

Several dancers, including Karlies Kelley of Panadanza and Deepa Devasena of the Kathak Dance Collective of Philadelphia, choreographed the family event. It is presented by Black Arts MKE and funded by the ArtsForward grant from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

The event will feature mashups and mixes of soul, funk and rock, says creator, director and producer Kiran Vedula, but will also trace the lineage of hip hop in West Africa and the rhythms of the African diaspora.

Courtesy of Kiran Vedula


Kiran Vedula is the creator, director and producer of Hip Hop DNA. He is a musician, producer and educator who runs the non-profit organization Flutes at Dawn.

Vedula says his own journey as a hip hop producer, discovering the original artists sampled in modern hip hop, sparked the project. “I love this story created by the samples, these layers,” says Vedula. “And so many songs that I know as a rap song, maybe Kanye West, or Dr. Dre, or whoever actually leads me to other music that I then go into older music, than this either Roy Ayers or Ramsey Lewis or different artists from the past that I might not have found on my own.

Vedula says there’s a Roberta Flack song kill me softly in the show, which he originally only associated with a Fugees song sung by Lauryn Hill. “I never knew it was actually a remake of a Roberta Flack song until I heard the original used at the beginning of the credits of one of the TV specials. Dave Chappelle on Netflix. And I was like, ‘oh my God, that’s an original song from the 70s.’ »

Vedula says many people her age who were born in the 80s and later would associate the song more with Lauryn Hill. “So that’s what’s fun about the show as well, is the song starts, and that’s one thing, but then the part that everyone knows comes along and you just hear that reaction in the audience. Everything everyone sings or claps and that’s really one of my favorite things about the show,” he explains.

Vedula says his mission as an artist, particularly with his nonprofit organization Flutes at Dawn, is what he calls cross-cultural understanding or culturally relevant education. “And by that, I mean, I think in Milwaukee a lot of our cultural issues have to do with cross-cultural misunderstanding,” Vedula says. “And as a musician, and my wife Karlies also being a dancer and an instructor, we both have the opportunity to engage with many different communities in Milwaukee. And we know from the statistics that Milwaukee is one of the worst places for African American men, specifically but for people in general, and it’s such a rich culture that’s rooted in Africa, but has then so many influences from Latin America and Asia. So it’s an opportunity for all of us to find common ground in an otherwise very divided era.

Vedula says hip hop is an art form that can be misunderstood in mainstream culture, as it is full of profanity, violence and references to drugs. “That’s just a very small part of what this culture really stands for,” he says. “And for me, as a son of Indian immigrants, and I know other immigrants on the show whose parents are from Russia or Ethiopia or Colombia, hip hop is a way for all of us to come together and bring together our different cultures and maintain who we are and be together.

He says the performance is a celebration of what really makes America great, which is all these different pieces, different samples, different cultures, coming together. “And I think hip hop and sampling, both as a metaphorical and real musical process, allows us to do that.”

Vedula hopes we can continue to shape arts funding to support this kind of music programming, as well as the teaching of this history and culture. “I think it can really build our abilities to connect with young people where they are, but then start to seed with the beats they know and then grow them,” says Vedula. “It’s a great teaching tool. And that helps me as an educator, to connect with students all the time, regardless of age. »

He further says that this type of digging into hip hop leads people to have a greater appreciation for music in general and how genres blend and come from the same impulse.

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