MILWAUKEE — What’s the point of getting a COVID-19 vaccine? Milwaukee musicians can think of a few reasons.
“Don’t wanna see nobody else die.”
“So I can be close to you.”
“Everyday on Zoom and it barely feel like living.”
What You Need To Know
- The Milwaukee Rep shared a series of four music videos with hopeful messages about the COVID-19 vaccines
- Producer Kiran Vedula teamed up with local artists to create the tracks, building off the "vibe" of each artist
- Vedula hopes the songs can be a "spoonful of sugar" to reach people with the real facts about vaccines
Artists shared these messages as part of a music video series from the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, encouraging people to get informed about COVID-19 vaccinations. At a moment when vaccine demand is dipping in Wisconsin and beyond, the music videos speak to why getting their shots matters to these four local musicians — and to their communities.
Like other arts organizations, the Milwaukee Rep has been working hard at getting back to live performances after a year of pandemic protocols, explained Jenny Toutant, the theater’s chief engagement and education officer. Last month, the theater opened its doors to live audiences for the first time in more than a year.
But while talking through questions about how to reopen safely, Toutant said, the team also started to wonder: What was their responsibility to communicate about the vaccines?
“As an arts organization, we can find ways to hopefully influence hearts and minds,” she said.
Toutant said it’s part of the Rep’s mission to engage with the needs of the community and see what they can do to help. Over the past year, the theater has partnered on other music videos about social issues, including a series on Milwaukee’s lead crisis and another encouraging voter turnout.
For all of the projects, they’ve contracted with Kiran Vedula — a local musician, producer and educator — to create the tracks.
Vedula, who works as an artist in residence with COA Youth and Family Centers as well as creating his own music, reached out to former students and musical collaborators for the vaccine videos. With the hope of speaking to an audience that was “diverse in age and background,” he said he included musicians with different styles — including two singers and two rappers.
Each video brings in a slightly different focus and builds off the “vibe” of the artist, Vedula said.
Marcya Daneille’s video, “Hold On,” comes from the perspective of someone who’s still deciding about getting her shot: “I got options, one or two, and I’m wondering what to choose,” she sings. And in “Find a Way,” Donna Re’nee promises, “Soon I will be by your side.”
The challenge for all of the songs was to find the right balance between writing a catchy song and getting information across, Vedula added. With the two rap songs, though, he said it was easier to be a little more literal with the lyrics.
In “My Shot,” NilexNile raps, “Misinformation, it could kill you,” tackling some of the rumors spreading about vaccine safety. And in “Prime Time,” Dayzhane Anderson gives a quick lesson on how some of the vaccines work: “mRNA’s building up your antibodies. Antibodies, like soldiers in your body.”
After writing and recording each track, all the artists came together to shoot their videos in one day, with the help of director Cody LaPlant — which Vedula said felt like “a little family reunion.”
Now that the finished videos are out in the world, Toutant said she hopes they’ll encourage people to “take that next step in their own journey towards vaccination.”
The videos aren’t designed to go into every single detail about the vaccines, she and Vedula explained. They’re meant to encourage people to lean in and engage with some of the real facts about the shots — like from HealthyMKE or Between Us About Us, an information campaign by Black health care workers that Vedula referenced while working on the songs.
“We can't claim as a theater company, ‘We’re going to fix the lead crisis,’” Toutant said. “We're not going to vaccinate the population. That's not our job. There's medical professionals for that. But we can help get the messages out.”
In listening sessions with the community about COVID-19 vaccines, Toutant said they heard a variety of reasons why people were unsure about the shots — from questions about long-term effects, to historical racism in the medical field.
By sharing a hopeful message by Black artists who are from the local community, Vedula said he hoped the videos could reach beyond the polarized posts and misinformation online
“Music has a way to disarm people, in a way,” Vedula said. If people are singing along, or getting the lyrics stuck in their heads, it may serve as the “spoonful of sugar” to help them digest information about the shots.
For Vedula, the project has already been rewarding. Working with local artists and creating music with a positive message are all in line with what he wants to do as a creator.
“It's centered around my mission in every possible way, as far as using hip hop for social good [and] giving opportunities to young artists to have a platform,” Vedula said. “It's nice to have that opportunity to bring something that's that's just as catchy, just as funky, just as culturally relevant, but is also doing something good.”