Juan de Marcos González has dedicated his life to raising the profile of all genres of Cuban music. Photo: Tom Erlich

Cuban music offers a rich blend of sound and culture that is truly more than the sum of its parts. Melding West African rhythms with European melodies and strings, Cuban jazz and other forms have branched out to become serious influences in their own right.

This fall, the Arts Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison welcomes Grammy Award winner Juan de Marcos González, founder of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and an accomplished musician in several genres, as its Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence. In addition to teaching and performing on campus with world-renowned collaborators, he will conduct weekly master classes with School of Music ensembles and engage in community outreach in Madison and Milwaukee.

A full schedule of related lectures, performances and additional activities — all free, unless otherwise noted — is available online at go.wisc.edu/juandemarcos. View video highlights from Juan de Marcos González’s visit to Madison in February 2015.

González has dedicated his life to raising the profile of all genres of Cuban music. He is primarily known for forming the Afro-Cuban All Stars to promote and celebrate the “golden age” of Cuban music from the 1950s. The group’s work, along with González’s involvement with the Buena Vista Social Club, introduced many people worldwide to Cuban music. González has arranged, conducted, produced/co-produced, and/or performed on more than 25 albums, — both on his own and with artists including Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer and Sierra Maestra.

González brings an intriguingly broad background to his work. He studied classical and tres guitar at Havana conservatories and privately with maestros Vicente Gonzalez Rubiera and Leopoldina Nunez. He also studied contemporary harmony and orchestral conducting at Goldsmiths, University of London.

In addition to his musical studies, he holds degrees in engineering (with a focus on hydraulic engineering) and Russian and English languages, along with a doctorate in agronomical sciences.

The wide variety of interests González brings to UW-Madison reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the residency’s offerings, as well as the variety of students, staff and community members who will take part in activities throughout the coming months.

In the classroom, González will teach a lecture course called Afro-Cuban Music: Roots, Jazz, Hip Hop. Afterwards, he will present a Tuesday night series of public lectures on Afro-Cuban music to the general public from 7:30-9 p.m. These weekly sessions feature several live performances from renowned guest artists as they explore the origins and evolution of many forms of Cuban music.

Upcoming lectures include “Cuban Son” on Sept. 22 at Music Hall, exploring the musical and dance style with the eclectic group Pellejo Seco; “Evolution of Popular Cuban Music” on Sept. 29 at Music Hall, with the Afro-Cuban All Stars; and “Hip Hop in Cuba” on Oct. 20 in the Memorial Union’s Fredric March Play Circle with spoken word artist Telmary Diaz.

The wide variety of interests González brings to UW-Madison reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the residency’s offerings.
The residency will culminate on Tuesday, Dec. 8 with a lecture and student performance at the Play Circle.

González will also lead a one-credit music production course, Music Production: Afro-Cuban & Hip Hop Music, for students interested in recording original music based on the material presented in his lecture course.

The public components of the residency offer many opportunities for community members to take part.

Following the recent kickoff celebration at Madison’s Cardinal Bar, upcoming public events include a performance at the Madison World Music Festival’s Willy St. Stage by the eclectic Pellejo Seco, hailed by many critics as the next Buena Vista Social Club. González will introduce the group and join them onstage at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 between the 900 and 1000 blocks of Williamson Street.

The Afro-Cuban All Stars themselves visit Madison for a ticketed performance at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2 at the Overture Center, 201 State St. Their concert culminates a longer campus visit including a presence at González’s Sept. 29 lecture. (The group will also perform Saturday, Oct. 3 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield, as well as Sunday, Oct. 4 at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis.)

Among the many artists González is bringing to campus, his daughter Gliceria González Abreu leads the Cuban String Ensemble, a six-week performance workshop for student string players focusing on the classical side of Cuban music hosted by the Division of Continuing Studies. Clarinetist Laura Lydia González, Gliceria González’s sister, will also participate in the classical workshops.

In addition, Cuban spoken word artist Telmary Diaz will appear at three “Passing the Mic’” open mic sessions from Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 22–24 at the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall.

The Arts Institute’s Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program at UW-Madison brings innovative, world-class artists to campus for a semester-long residency sponsored by two or more departments. Juan de Marcos González’s residency was proposed by Willie Ney of the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives (OMAI) to coincide with the program’s 10th anniversary. Johannes Wallmann, John and Carolyn Peterson Chair in Jazz Studies in the School of Music, is the lead faculty for the residency.

This residency is supported jointly by the UW School of Music and OMAI, operating within the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement, as well as numerous campus and community partners.

This article by Susannah Brooks was reprinted from University Communications at UW-Madison.