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José Madera: Keeping a Latin beat

November 29, 2011 By Aimee Katz

By day, you’ll find him in Bascom Hall, but in José Madera’s spare time, he’s often with MadiSalsa, a music ensemble dedicated to bringing the diversity of Latin music to the Midwest.

Photo: José Madera

By day, José Madera is an assistant dean in the College of Letters & Science, but in his spare time he is a percussionist in MadiSalsa, which is dedicated to bringing the diversity of Latin music to the Midwest. Madera is shown at left in the foreground performing with the band.

Photo: Jeff Miller

Born and raised in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, Madera lived in an environment where it was impossible to ignore music.

“Music is in the life of everyone,” he says. “It’s hard to stay away.”

Madera studied in Puerto Rico for his undergraduate degree, however his pursuit of a master’s degree brought him to Madison. As an undergraduate, he was in university choir. His involvement inspired him to learn more and explore more types of music.

“Though my education brought me to Madison, I still wanted to pursue music,” says Madera, an assistant dean in the College of Letters & Science.

To bring his percussion talents to the Midwest, Madera assisted in the formation of MadiSalsa and has been involved ever since. 

For almost 20 years, MadiSalsa has been devoted to preserving the musical traditions of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.  The ensemble performs myriad types of music from mambo and bolero to merengue and Latin jazz.

Madera explains that the diverse group of people that makes up MadiSalsa shapes its shows.

“Performing all around the state, we have no choice but to let our roots shine through,” he says.

All of the members of MadiSalsa have been involved with other bands, thus they are able to play original material from within each band in addition to island classics. Madera emphasizes that MadiSalsa is community-focused and strives to educate the Wisconsin community.

“We have been fortunate to foster connections with UW as well as various festivals throughout Madison,” says Madera. “Local shows are the best because audiences are enthusiastic and get involved with the percussion and horns.”

MadiSalsa had played at Dane Dances, the Isthmus Jazz Festival, Jazz in the Park and the Waterfront Festival, just to name a few. The band also performs at occasional private events, and travels around the state to other UW campuses to share its music.  

“Next year, we’re turning 20,” says Madera. “We recognize that the band is continuing to evolve and grow in different styles of music and musicians as we educate our community about the rich and vast cultural expression that is Latin music.”