With what is sure to be a historic election season on the horizon, Tampa Bay’s robust arts community is getting the word out about voting in November.
Since Tampa Bay is rich with artists, it’s little surprise that a creative effort to promote voting comes with Voice Your Vote 2020, an original song and video that was a collaboration of local singers, songwriters, music and video producers, shot around Tampa Bay.
And what’s remarkable is that most of this diverse group of artists, whose ages range from 16 to 77, had never met each other and all agreed to give their time and talent for free.
“As different as everybody was, they were committed to the idea to exercise the American right to vote,” said Michelle Passoff, who spearheaded the project. “We’re not saying who to vote for, or how to vote, just vote.”
The project began early in the pandemic. Passoff was sitting at her kitchen table, watching television, figuring out what to do next. She and her husband, Andre Kupfermunz, had recently shut their art studio and their estate sale business down.
She’d always been an advocate for voting, and with 2020 being an election year, she started calling local voting organizations to look for ways to get involved.
Passoff said that she’s passionate about American democracy and that the right to vote is “fundamental to American democracy and being free.”
She said the ways voting organizations suggested getting involved wouldn’t be the best use of her talent. Then the idea to create a song and make a video to promote voting popped into her head.
Funny thing is, Passoff isn’t a singer or a musician. So she immediately started Googling local musicians.
A network of music people started coming together. Before long, she had assembled a diverse group of singers and songwriters who would meet over Zoom with their ideas for lyrics.
Passoff knew she wanted the song to incorporate English and Spanish and to “have a bit of rap.”
So she contacted Grand Bay Studios/NdroiD Beats in Tampa, where she talked to head producer Nawlage, a prominent rapper and producer, and invited him to the Zoom meeting.
Nawlage, whose real name is Aquiles Espinosa, said he was looking at it as any other job, but when he saw the level of passion and excitement about voting on the Zoom call, he thought it was even cooler.
He assembled the group’s ideas and, with the help of co-writer Sh3 (pronounced she), laid down a track. The song, titled Let Your Voice Be Heard, has a dancehall beat and features lyrics in Spanish and English.
(One) Vote ahead be an early bird
(Two) By mail may be preferred
(Three) Or at the polls on November third
Either way makes your voice heard
Grand Bay Studios also led to singer Ashley Smith getting involved — Joe Remo, the sound engineer, told her about the project while she was there recording her band’s album.
Smith said she was interested in promoting voting before this project, after watching the news and social media. She was looking for ways to help, and she kept coming back to voting.
“As a singer I knew my contribution would be music,” she said. “This project was a manifestation of what I was trying to do.”
Passoff also assembled a team of volunteer video producers, Clint Mouriño and Ryan Justice, who knew each other in college. The video shoot happened in one day, between raindrops, in locations from Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa to St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach.
The video features singers Tanya LaReese, Smith, Javi D’Rosa, Flavia Rueda and rapper Trinity Danielle Sanchez.
Another version of the video includes a sign language interpreter.
Passoff got donations from Fast Signs for the placards that spell out voiceyourvote2020.com that people hold up on the beach in the video. Fresh Kitchen donated food for the crew the day of the shoot.
“I think when there is a chorus that says ‘Go vote,’ it raises your consciousness,” Passoff said. “We want to be heard as far and as wide as we can, to turn up the volume on voting. If the chorus gets loud enough it will reach people and motivate them.”
After the song was completed, Passoff also assembled a web designer, a lawyer to help copyright the song and establish the group as a nonprofit, and a marketing expert. The website now has a donate button for funds to promote the video on social media.
The video has been online since Aug. 20 and has 48,000 views.
“The goal was to saturate Tampa as much as we could,” Passoff said. “To tell the rest of the country, if we can come together, you can too. We want to be an example. If you’re an eligible participant to vote, you matter.”
The video has already inspired one person to register to vote: Nawlage. He told the group when he first came on board that he doesn’t vote because he travels so much and might not be in the state where he would be registered, among other reasons.
But Passoff addressed all of his concerns, and after the video was finished, he registered to vote, which was surprisingly uncomplicated.
“Man, this is what I’ve been running away from?” he said. “I’ve been so against it, but my vote does matter.”
Nawlage said he thought the video came out “great” and called Passoff a “go-getter.”
“When she says she’s going to do something she does it,” he said. “I’m proud of her.”
Smith was similarly complimentary of Passoff.
“I want to shout out to Michelle for putting it together and her vision,” she said. “It wasn’t one-sided. It was wanting a better world, creating a space where we can all come together.”
“I came out of it connected to the community and to the project,” Passoff said. “It was an artistic expression and passion to do this. I’m proud of it and what everyone did.”
For more information, visit voiceyourvote2020.com.