Local musicians connect with Madison’s Cuban sister city

Local musicians connect with Madison’s Cuban sister city

Madison just celebrated its 25th anniversary as a sister city with Camaguey, Cuba. That’s the country’s third-largest city, located about 300 miles from Havana.

The sister city relationship includes cultural trips and humanitarian support. Each year, the Wisconsin Medical Project sends groups of volunteers who work with Cuban medical professionals and deliver supplies.

Former Alder Ricardo Gonzalez grew up in Camaguey, and was at the forefront of establishing the sister city relationship.

“Camaguey’s got a lot of attitude. We all know Madison does also,” Gonzalez said. He said the city is part of Cuba’s dairyland, another reason it’s a good fit.

“There’s two things that bring the people of Cuba and the people of the U.S. together: and that’s baseball and jazz,” Gonzalez said.

This year the sister city relationship blossomed into a musical conversation. A group of 10 Madison professional jazz musicians traveled to Camaguey to learn about their culture and perform with local musicians.

“Jazz is a universal language,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison bass instructor Nick Moran. “When you’re creating in the moment that’s just something that all humans share.”

Moran worked with the Madison-Camaguey Sister City Association to organize the trip. He selected music the Madisonians and Cubans rehearsed together and performed. The lineup included arrangements by Dr. Johannes Wallmann, UW-Madison’s director of jazz studies, and music from a suite written for Wisconsin called “Forward,” by local trumpet player and composer Paul Dietrich.

“Why we do this trip is so we can show both sides what our cultures can be when we combine our art,” Moran said.

They also brought 30 Madisonians of all different backgrounds on the trip and three UW-Madison students on their winter break.

“It was funny to see these guys who couldn’t speak any Spanish and guys who couldn’t speak any English sitting next to each other and be able to play the same music,” said UW-Madison cello student Meredith Nesbitt.

“What happened there was a true come together, where people overcame differences and overcame language barriers,” said Gonzalez, vice president of the Madison-Camaguey Sister City Association. “They came together to make great music.”

If you’d like to see more from the Camaguey trip, local videographer Paddy Cassidy, of Seventh Sense Media, is creating a documentary about the experience.

If you’re interested in visiting Camaguey, the Madison-Camaguey Sister City Association hosts group trips each year. You can find more information on its Facebook page.

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