Editor’s note: This story is one of an occasional series of pieces about community artists in Milwaukee.
Kiran Vedula, known as “Q the Sun” in the band New Age Narcissism, has worked in Milwaukee’s music scene for the past 12 years as a musician, composer and producer.
“Milwaukee is a hard place to start a music career,” he said, “but it’s like a teenager. There are a lot of great things happening and it knows it can be something cool, but it’s struggling with its identity.”
Vedula uses his knowledge and experience in the music industry to give back to the community, working as a mentor for youths at nonprofit organizations in Milwaukee.
“We talk to kids about the difference between having a vision and a goal,” said Vedula. “With New Age Narcissism, we show students how to create something out of nothing and apply it to some aspect of their life.”
Vedula play keyboard, sings and produces for the artist collaborative, New Age Narcissism. NAN includes well-known artists such as Webster X and Siren and is experimental hip-hop, pop and soul.
Vedula was introduced to music when he was 6 through classical piano lessons. After participating in classical competitions, musicals and plays, he committed seriously to music when he was 15.
“My parents are from India, so music wasn’t necessarily something that many people pursued outside of relaxation and fun,” he said. “As I got older and got into performing more and writing songs, I really got hooked on it and realized ‘this is me.’”
Vedula attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he learned how to produce and record music. Now he produces tracks for NAN, radio and other musicians across various genres.
“I would consider myself a music enthusiast,” he said. “I don’t really come from any musical tradition. I’m just a fan of sounds, people and what music does to bring those people together and what music does to me when I’m alone.”
Vedula originally combined his music and community work as a mentor at COA Youth & Family Centers, a nonprofit organization that provides educational, recreational and social work programs for families, children and teens.
“I’ve never really thought about working with the community; it just seemed like a natural part of the music process,” he said. “I gravitate toward people who I see have something special.” Vedula added that young people don’t always realize that they have talent, so he helps them do that.
Last September, Vedula began working as a music production and band music instructor at TRUE Skool, a nonprofit organization that uses urban arts to engage youth in social justice leadership and development. He also works at Express Yourself Milwaukee, which uses the arts to help young people express themselves in positive ways.
“Kiran is completely relatable to the youth that we work with here,” said Shalina S. Alina, co-executive director of TRUE Skool. “It’s not hard for him to inspire the youths here to create their own music.”
Alina’s fellow co-executive director, Fidel Verdin, met Vedula when both men worked at COA.
“Kids would always talk about this guy named ‘Q’ and I would hear his beats and thought he had a great ear for music,” said Verdin. “Kiran adds a live band aspect to the class.”
Vedula said that he has seen Milwaukee become a better environment for musicians and hopes that his efforts with TRUE Skool and Express Yourself will create more community leaders.
“I feel like my group and other artists and people that we’re affiliated with and work with are in prime positions to do some really interesting and amazing work.”