UW–Madison to host musicians and activists Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez as the spring 2020 Division of the Arts Interdisciplinary Artists-in-Residence

Ben Barson playing saxophone and Gizelxanath Rodriguez
Photo: Andrew Swenson

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Division of the Arts (presenter) welcomes Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez as the spring 2020 Interdisciplinary Artists-in-Residence. Both Barson and Rodriguez are musicians, artivists (artists and activists), environmentalists and co-founders of the Afro Yaqui Music Collective (longer biographies below).

They will teach the course “Artivism: Intercultural Solidarity & Decolonizing Performance.”  Students will investigate the theory, practice, multidisciplinary and intercultural concepts connected with the recent jazz opera, “Mirror Butterfly: The Migrant Liberation Movement Suite.” Barson and Rodriguez will guide and inspire students to participate in the construction of a new performance module of the jazz opera. To supplement the residency, Barson and Rodriguez will present at various events and bring in guest artists Nejma Nefertiti and Charlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C (biographies below).

The spring 2020 Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program is presented by the UW–Madison Division of the Arts and hosted by the Asian American Studies Program with Associate Professor Peggy Choy as lead faculty. Co-sponsors include the Dance Department, the Mead Witter School of Music and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Some of the residency events are also part of the Nelson Institute’s Earth Day@50 – Arts Initiative.

The UW–Madison Division of the Arts’ Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program (IARP) brings innovative artists to campus to teach semester-long, interdepartmental courses and to publicly present their work for campus and community audiences and is funded through the university’s Office of the Provost.

Spring 2020 Public Events

All the events are free and take place in Madison, Wisconsin unless noted otherwise, such as the conferences. Events are subject to change. Visit the events section at their website go.wisc.edu/barsonrodriguez for more details.

Thursday, Feb. 27 | 7­–8:30 p.m.

“Art Equals Politics: From the streets to social justice”
An evening with Nejma Nefertiti – Revolutionary Hip Hop Artist
Bayview Community Center, 601 Bay View (in the Triangle)
(Parking in the Center’s lot is limited, please use Braxton Place and West Washington Avenue)

Nejma Nefertiti shares her experience as an EmCee, an open mic session follows. Discussing the five elements of Hip Hop culture, Nejma explains how Hip Hop is a tool for the legacy she creates and practices. She shares her process of inspiring, bringing awareness and creating social change, through the tenets of Mother Earth centeredness, self-determination, restoring the way of the Original peoples and radical matriarchy. She also touches on how Hip Hop and art are voices of the movement.

Nejma will lead an opening ceremony honoring the ancestors and build a liberated space of expression, using Hip Hop’s elements. Attendees are encouraged to use any and all elements of the art form. Everyone is welcome to participate in an open mic cypher/soul share.

Friday, Feb. 28 | 5–7 p.m.

Tandem Press Friday Jazz Series
Tandem Press, 1743 Commercial Avenue

Performances by Blue Note Ensemble, directed by Chris Rottmayer, and the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, directed by Johannes Wallmann. Ben Barson, saxophonist, and Gizelxanath Rodriguez, vocalist, as well as Nejma Nefertiti, all of the Afro Yaqui Music Collective, will join this session as guests.

Wednesday, April 15 | 7:30 p.m.

Contested Homes: Migrant Liberation Movement Suite
Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall, 740 University Avenue

The final spring 2020 residency features a new performance module of the jazz opera “Mirror Butterfly,” created together with students from the “Artivism: Intercultural Solidarity & Decolonizing Performance” course.

Includes music by Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez and the UW Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, directed by Johannes Wallmann. Choreographed by Peggy Choy. Special guest performers include Charlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C and Nejma Nefertiti.

Spring 2020 Conference Participation 

 April 17 | Time TBD

Resistance and Reimagination: Gender, Change, and the Arts
2020 4W Initiative, GWS and WGSC* Conference
The Pyle Center, 702 Langdon Street
Conference cost varies

Charlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C, Nejma Nefertiti, Gizelxanath Rodriguez and Ben Barson, discuss a lifetime in activism and art around liberation via organizations where women’s leadership is paramount. There is a charge to attend the conference organized by the

*UW–Madison’s 4W Initiative: Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World (4W) and Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) Graduate Students along with the UW System Women’s and Gender Studies Consortium (WGSC).

April 20 | Time TBD

The 14th Annual Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference
Earth Day @ 50: Aspiring for Sustainability, Striving for Justice, Crafting the Earth
Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Drive
Conference cost varies

Gizelxanath Rodriguez and Ben Barson, along with others will present their work on the panel  “Ecological Justice Through Art.”  There is a charge to attend the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies’ annual Earth Day Conference (registration opens in Feb.).


Afro Yaqui Music Collective portrait
Afro Yaqui Music Collective. Photo: Jeff Swenson

Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez

Ben Barson is an award-winning composer, educator, baritone saxophonist, historian and political activist. Barson cares deeply about the environment along with racial and social justice and inequities. Like his mentor Fred Ho (IARP fall 2008), he composes music to impact change inspired by the jazz tradition.

Gizelxanath Rodriguez is a Mexican Indigenous (Yaqui) renowned vocalist, cellist, educator and artivist (art and activism) at the intersection of Indigenous rights, ecosocialism and migrant justice. She is fluent in five languages (Spanish, Portuguese, English, French and Italian) and her vocal work spans a range of styles and cultures.

Together, Barson and Rodriguez co-founded the Afro Yaqui Music Collective, an ensemble that combines Afro-Asian musical and political affinities with inspiration from the struggles of the Yaqui of northern Mexico. Barson and Rodriguez strive to incorporate voices of regional and Indigenous communities in the creation of their boundary-pushing interdisciplinary works.

Nejma Nefertiti headshot
Photo courtesy of the artist

Nejma Nefertiti

Nejma Nefertiti is a powerful Hip Hop/theater artist, sound designer, songwriter and creator of natural perfumes. Her revolutionary matriarchal legacy is to create awareness, inspiration and social change throughout the entire world, for all oppressed peoples, through Hip Hop culture and art.

Mama C portrait
Photo courtesy of the artist

Charlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C

Charlotte Hill O’Neal aka Mama C, is a writer/poet, visual artist, musician, healer, inspirational speaker, longtime community activist and Director of United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) based in Arusha, Tanzania in East Africa.