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Wednesday, September 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 62.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Madison Music Project -- Grupo Candela

Today's highlighted Madison musical act is Grupo Candela.

Formed just barely over a year ago, Grupo Candela has quickly become a standard bearer in Madison's burgeoning Latin music scene with its strong salsa. The group is currently composed as an octet, its membership of prolific musicians originally hailing from Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Meringue, bachata, and cumbia is also featured in the salseros' repertoire, one that gets listeners moving in clubs and outdoors.

Grupo Candela boasts impressive roots in the local music performance and educational scenes. Here are the bios of all eight members of the current version of the group:

Sandra Faitel is originally from Chicago, but grew up between Chicago and Cidra, Puerto Rico. Sandra trained with her father, a gifted musician and composer, throughout most of her youth. As a young adult, she received vocal instruction at the Fine Arts Center of Chicago, and has deep roots in gospel, jazz, blues, and contemporary Christian music. She has sung in several groups, including The House of Heroes, Madisalsa, Del Sur Son, and Sandra Nadmi Blues.

A Madison native and UW-Madison graduate, Greg Smith has and presently performs on clarinet, saxophone and flute in a wide variety of musical organizations and styles including the Madison Symphony Orchestra the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, "Madison's Own" Capitol City Band, the Avenue Sizzlers, his own Greg Roberts Jazz, the Yid Vicious Klezmer Ensemble, The Reptile Palace Orchestra, and last but not least Madison's Afro-Cuban Latin jazz band Que Flavor!

Mario Mendoza was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During his early years, he was a student of pianist Angelina Figueroa -- a member of the celebrated musical Figueroa family of Puerto Rico, and a student of famed classical/popular Puerto Rican guitarist Manuel Gayol De La Rosa, a contemporary of Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia. After moving to Madison, Wisconsin to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mario became a guitarist and backup vocalist for the Afro-Caribbean ensemble BentetÃ. Aside from his work with MadiSalsa, Mario is the lead vocalist, guitarist and percussionist with the Latin American musical group Sotavento, with which he has toured in the US and Europe and recorded 2 CDs. Mario's vocals are featured in MadiSalsa's first CD Del Caribe Al CorazÃn. MadiSalsa's upcoming release, Se Permite Bailar, features Mario on lead vocals and includes several writing collaborations with members of the band. Mario is a practicing attorney in Wisconsin.

David Cooper is widely recognized as one of the most versatile trumpet players in the Midwest. His performing affiliations include Principal trumpet with the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, the New Breed Jazz Quintet, the salsa band "Candela", Principal show trumpet for the Weidener Center for the Performing Arts as well as performing with many jazz and classical ensembles throughout the region. Performances have been with such renowned artists as Kurt Elling, Lynn Harrell, Orbert Davis, Ben Sidran, Andre Watts, Bob Mintzer, Joe Williams, Ed Shaunessy, Clyde Stubblefield, Bobby McFerrin, Armen Donelian, Lew Soloff, Bobby Shew, Bob Newhart, Marie Osmond, Robert Goulet, among others. Past ensemble affiliations include the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, the Canton Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Dallas Brass, Walt Disney World, The Aspen Jazz Ensemble and the La Crosse and Madison Symphony Orchestras.

As an educator, Dr. Cooper is currently the professor of trumpet and jazz studies at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Master classes, lectures, and private instruction are weekly regimen for his students who receive education in solo and orchestral repertoire, jazz improvisation, commercial, studio, and various ethnic and world music topics. In 2005, Dr. Cooper hosted a trumpet festival that attracted over 450 participants. The principal guests included Adolph Herseth, Doc Severinsen, Charles Lazarus, members of the Minnesota Orchestra trumpet section among other wonderful players. As a clinician, he has lectured and performed at the International Trumpet Guild Conference, New York Brass Conference, and is a regular clinician at the Eau Claire, La Crosse and Dubuque jazz festivals as well as a very active soloist/clinician with regional schools and community ensembles.

Cary Sheley has played with numerous musical organizations, including the show band aboard Cunard's "Royal Viking Sun" cruise ship, where he spent a year cruising the world with stops in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. While aboard the "Sun," he played behind many artists including Marilyn Macoo and Debbie Reynolds. He spent 6 years on the road with the world famous "Glenn Miller Orchestra". He played lead trombone behind Larry O'Brien, the current leader of the orchestra, with performances in all 50 states, South America, Spain and Japan.

While in the band, he sang in the vocal group the "Moonlight Serenaders", recorded 3 albums, including Barry Manilow's "Singing With The Big Bands," and a video for PBS with Kathie Lee Gifford. As a freelance artist he has performed with many entertainers and musicians including Andy Williams, Mel Torme, Bobby Shew, Louie Bellson and Carl Fontana.

Roberto Rengel, an architect, is an Associate Professor in the School of Human Ecology at UW where he teaches in the Interior Design program. He is a percussionist from Puerto Rico. He has played Congas and timbales with such popular local bands as Que Flavor, Fuego Latino and Bombazo.

Manuel Vellon was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, where most of the great salseros come from. Mr. Vellon is a retired disabled Vietnam veteran and served this country with honor. He grew up with friends from the barrio who introduced him into the percussion world: Angel "Cachete Maldonado" (Batacumbele), Eduardo Diaz (La CorporaciÃn Latina), Charlie Cotto, Richie Ray, and others. Growing up in a ghetto and in a very poor family, Mr. Vellon made his first timbales and bongos out of aluminum cans. He has played with local groups here in Madison and Puerto Rico, including "TÃ Zae Que," "Que Flavor," "Bombazo," and "Fuego Latino."

Pavel Polanco-Safadit is originally from the Dominican Republic. His compositions have been performed in many locations throughout the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. He has composed pieces in various styles, such as modern music, popular Latin music, and jazz. Pavel is an active performer of classical, modern, and Latin music. He appears as a soloist, guest artist with many groups, and as a lecturer in universities around the country. Pavel is currently a dissertator completing a DMA degree in composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he studies under Steve Dembski and Laura Schwendinger. He teaches theory under Brian Hyer.

Alex Cuba is from Tabasco, Mexico and is a multitalented percussionist. His instruments include timbales, congas, and bongos. He is also an incredible bass player. Alex began playing the marimba in 1982, studying under Linda Villahermosa. He has performed on congas with many musical ensembles, including Poder Negro, Chabacano Show, TripulaciÃn, Mediterraneo, Proyecto Manhattan, Pachamama, Mezcla Latina, Fuego Latino, and Cumbia Mix.

There are two videos of a Grupo Candela performance available from MambofodadÃz, a two-person dance company based in Chicago. On Friday, Sept. 22, they played at the Palace Latin Club at a benefit for the Rainbow Project, a local non-profit that provides therapy for young children suffering from various forms of abuse.

More details about the group are available at, including a listing of their previous and upcoming gigs. Founded by Polanco-Safadit and managed by journalist and promoter Alejandro Riano, Grupo Candela generally plays a couple of times a month, bolstered in the warmer months by a steady festival schedule throughout the state. Their next performance is set for this Saturday, Nov. 18 at the Palace Latin Club. Grupo Candela plays regularly at the second-story establishment sitting in the midst of scientific research and steady traffic in the west end of the UW-Madison campus. In fact, they played at the grand opening of the club back in February. Their next confirmed performance will be at the Palace on New Year's Eve.

This is the latest featured entry from the Madison Music Project, an online database of Madison-area musicians. Please register or update your current profile on the project for consideration in these highlights.

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