MadiSalsa’s 24-year run as Madison’s favorite salsa band will come to an end tonight with their final performance at Dane Dances, a free performance on the Monona Terrace Rooftop.

“Considering how important Dane Dances is to us — we’ve been with Dane Dances from the very beginning — it’s very fitting for us to play our last show there,” MadiSalsa founding member José Madera tells Madison365. “This was a no-brainer for us to say good-bye with the community and the people at Dane Dances. That’s the best venue to do it because everybody is going to be there. That will, indeed, be our farewell concert.”

Since their formation in 1992, Madisalsa — an 11-member ensemble devoted to the musical traditions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and The Dominican Republic — has been voted Madison’s favorite dance band several times and they have performed hundreds of shows and received extraordinary reviews.

The band announced the news that tonight’s performance would be their last on Tuesday stating: “It has been a memorable journey and one we will cherish the rest of our lives. To all of you, our loyal, devoted and faithful followers, friends, hermanos y hermanas, we want to say MUCHAS GRACIAS for your support, your love, your generosity with your time—especially during our lengthy late night performances—and, of course, for always making us feel special, helping us become one of the most durable and successful Latin bands in Madison, Wisconsin.”

MadiSalsa performs at a previous Dane Dances
MadiSalsa performs at a previous Dane Dances

Since then, local social media has been abuzz which shows what a strong force MadiSalsa has been on the Madison musical scene for almost a quarter of a decade.

“It gives you an idea on how deeply rooted the name, the band, the concept, and the members of the band are in the community and how much significance it has to them,” Madera says.

They are a Madison staple – especially in the summer – playing at venues like Jazz in the Park, Orton Fest, Waterfront Fest, Central Park Sessions, Isthmus Jazz Festival, Dane Dances, Centro Hispano Annual Banquet, and much more.

“We are an 11-piece and sometimes a 12-piece band. We don’t fit in every stage or at every tavern,” Madera laughs. “We pretty much make the exception for The Cardinal because, well, it’s The Cardinal and [owner] Ricardo Gonzalez has been a staunch supporter of our band.

“It’s been a positive and very interactive relationship with the city and it basically starts with calling our band Madisalsa – salsa for Madison,” he adds. “It has been a great experience for us. It is bittersweet to see it come to an end.”

MadiSalsa performs at last year's Centro Hispano Annual Banquet. (Photo by Marcus Miles)
MadiSalsa performs at last year’s Centro Hispano Annual Banquet.
(Photo by Marcus Miles)

MadiSalsa’s repertoire ranges from traditional island classics to original material from within the band and each performance offers a wide variety of musical expression from mambo to merengue, bolero to bomba.

“The thing about MadiSalsa is that it did not just appeal to the Latino community, it went above and beyond that niche because of the strong jazz foundation that we brought it and because of the compositions that we selected,” Madera says.

“It was supposed to be a one-time-only deal and here we are 24 years later … [We’ve played] Summerfest, Conference of Mayors, Monona Terrace, John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, La Crosse, Eau Claire. All of the big events here in Madison, we’ve been a part of it,” Madera adds. “It’s been an amazing run. We look back and I don’t think there will be too many regrets. I wish we would have recorded more, personally, but that’s about it.”

MadiSalsa recorded and released two acclaimed albums, Del Caribe al Corazón in 1999 and Se Permite Bailar in 2003. “We didn’t make it [big] like Ricky Martin – we were always looking for that ‘Living La Vida Loca’ hit,” Madera laughs. “But we have a lot of great material and we feel like we really were an important thing in Madison and in Wisconsin.”

MadiSalsa has seen members come and go over their long history. They are currently comprised of Madera (vocals, bongos, percussion); Junior Rivera (lead vocals, percussion); Luis “Flaco” Díaz (congas); Rich Larson (timbales, drum set); Nick Moran (vocals, bass); Vince Fuh (piano); Claude Calliet (trombone, musical director); Jim Doherty (trumpet); Michelle de la Rosa (vocals); André Cailliet (electric guitar); Joey Burgos (vocals, percussion), and Jon Schipper (trumpet).

Born and raised in Santa Isabel, a city in southern Puerto Rico a little bit east of Ponce, music has always played a big part in Madera’s life. He was one of the founding members of the band Bentetú and has performed with a wide variety of Latin bands and groups including Paragüas, Olmeca, Sotavento and the Bembe Orchestra. Madera has had appearances at the annual African Diaspora with Ritmo Del Corazón and Soul Vibrations from Nicaragua and has worked as an accompanist at the UW Dance Department specializing in Caribbean and African rhythms.

Madera came to Madison in 1989 to pursue his master’s degree without knowing a single soul in Wisconsin. MadiSalsa came about, Madera remembers, back in 1992 when a club was commissioned by the Isthmus Jazz Festival coordinating committee to put together a Latin music and Latin rhythms showcase. “Claude Calliet was going through the doctoral program at the UW School of Music and he made a call to meet at the Music Hall in Mosse Humanities Building on a Sunday afternoon,” Madera says. “People showed up. I showed up. There were a lot of individuals who were in the grad school, in the School of Music or recent grads. [They were] mostly jazz musicians because the intention was to put together a Latin jazz band at the beginning.

“Remember that this was back in ’92. The so-called ‘Latin Explosion’ was slowly taking over. Ricky Martin was just starting to come out and some of the salsa singers were just starting to cross over,” Madera adds. “Mark Anthony and a few others were emerging. J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez), she wasn’t even in the picture yet! The most well-known Latin stars at that time were Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.”

Madera says that Puente came to Madison a few times in the early ‘90s. One particular time, Puente was playing the Barrymore Theater and he had posters plastered all over State Street. “They listed the names of all of the musicians that were with him and there it was ‘José Madera on percussion!’” Madera remembers. “People were coming up to me all the time and saying, ‘Madera! You made it! You’re playing with Tito!’ And I was like, ‘Tito who?’ It was a different José Madera. A little more famous. He was Puerto Rican, too, though.”

Jose Madera is one of the founding members of MadiSalsa.
Jose Madera is one of the founding members of MadiSalsa.

MadiSalsa would soon have their first gig at a bar below where Paisan’s is now located on the shores of Lake Monona. “I believe it was called The Library,” Madera says. “After the show, we said, ‘Do we want to continue?’ The reply was, ‘Sure, why not? We’re having fun!’”

MadiSalsa grew more and more popular in Madison and throughout the Midwest over the years. “We all had our own backgrounds and experiences and we brought that all together for collaboration,” Madera says. “We all learned together — the forms, the sounds, the melodies, and the execution. We all grew together, too.”

MadiSalsa helped Madisonians become more familiar with Latin music. “When it comes to orchestration, we were the ones who basically started that trend of heavy-duty salsa or Latin jazz here Madison,” Madera says. “A very strong jazz background was a signature of MadiSalsa.

“People have often remarked to us that are songs are very long,” Madera adds, laughing. “They tell us,’Wow. We’ve been dancing for more than five minutes already!’”

The people of Madison’s last chance to dance to MadiSalsa will be on the Monona Terrace Rooftop tonight.

“It’s bittersweet to see it all come to an end,” Madera says. “The happy side of it is that we know that we made an impact and became an institution here in Madison – a cultural representative. Not just a symbol, but a real, tangible, concrete part of the Madison community.”