The story of Milwaukee, and its vibrant and eclectic music scene is another great American tale. It’s an urban bulwark in the heart of the Midwest. A place where waves of immigrants have settled, and co-existed, not always peacefully, but the city’s heterogeneous makeup has left a distinctive imprint on the local culture. That’s especially true when it comes to the sound of the city.
To understand present day Milwaukee, first you must know about its past. Starting in the 1800’s French Canadians began migrating to Milwaukee, followed by Germans, Polish, Eastern Europeans, and later African-Americans and Latinos looking for opportunity and promise. With them all came their own unique traditions and sounds.
Milwaukee’s music scene began with the Native Americans and their drums. German immigrants arrived in the 1830’s, introducing classical music and early music societies that celebrated their culture to the mix. The Polish and Eastern Europeans followed, bringing composers like Chopin and lively folk music and dance—most notably the polka. Beginning in the early twentieth century, the city’s sound diversified even further as the great migration of Black Americans from the south made its way to Milwaukee, accompanied by the sway and bop of jazz. Over the course of the last three decades the city’s Latino population has more than tripled and music from Latin America is now flourishing as well with popular local bands such as Cecil Negron and Cache MKE making their presence felt.
“We brought the culture together through a different light. That’s the most exciting part to me. It was a like a calling.”
Like other immigrants to the region, Milwaukee Bucks small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo carried his culture with him when he he was drafted in 2013. Born in Greece to Nigerian parents, Giannis brought the best of both countries to Brew Town. Normally, the 6’11” phenom’s prowess on the court is all the art fans have come to expect from him, but the “Greek Freak” is tapping into his musical side. As part of JBL’s Sounds of the City campaign, Giannis teamed up with Afrobeat trailblazer DJ Tunez to create a one-of-a-kind anthem for the people of Milwaukee.
Celebrating Giannis’ newly adopted hometown through music was a task that DJ Tunez took seriously, especially because he also has roots in Nigeria. The Brooklyn-born producer crafted a track that was directly inspired by the energy of Milwaukee, including the sound of the waves on Lake Michigan, while also incorporating both Greek and Nigerian influences. “We brought the culture together through a different light,” says DJ Tunez of the collaboration. “That’s the most exciting part to me. It was a like a calling.”
Over the past few years, DJ Tunez has been instrumental in introducing Afropop, the infectious contemporary West African sound catching fire everywhere including Milwaukee, to a global audience. So it made perfect sense for him to work with Giannis on this project with JBL. The pair forged an immediate bond and kinship during their tour of Milwaukee, as they soaked in the city’s serene lakeside vibes and hung out at bars listening to local music for inspiration. All the way they even managed to make another Nigerian connection at a local pub. “We [Nigerians] are everywhere,” laughs DJ Tunez.
The beatmaker absorbed the experience and took it back to the studio to create the ultimate love offering, a heart-thumping instrumental inspired by Giannis and his passion for Milwaukee. Dubbed “Lawd,” the track seamlessly whirls the rhythms of Africa and Greece, the energy of Milwaukee, and Giannis’ gladiator spirit into a crowd-moving anthem. It’s perfect for those clutch moments where ballers like Giannis must bring their A games, while the hometown crowds go crazy cheering them on.
When Giannis is on the court, the entire city of Milwaukee is behind him, roaring with encouragement, united in support of one of the basketball’s new superstars. Further away, but still present are Nigerians everywhere, who view his dominance as the embodiment of a people on the rise.
“There’s a big surge of Nigerians who are making headway in America. Giannis is definitely part of that driving force spreading Nigerian excellence.”
“It’s a great time to be African. Giannis is excited with what’s happening with the music, with the culture,” says DJ Tunez. “There’s a big surge of Nigerians who are making headway in America. Giannis is definitely part of that driving force and [Nigerians] like to see you spread Nigerian excellence.”
That’s exactly what Giannis displays on the hardwood every night and what DJ Tunez does through his masterful boardwork. Each man represents their culture in different ways, and together the celebrate the sounds of Milwaukee as only they can.