Chopin and the Caribbean: Film & Music Event in Madison Explores Composer’s Unknown Connection to the Americas

Frédéric Chopin (also known under his Polish name Fryderyk Szopen) is universally recognized as one of the world’s leading figures of classical music. Photo: Chopin’s statue in the Łazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland (Pixabay).

Frédéric Chopin, the leading composer of the Romantic period, is usually associated with Poland, his native land, or France, where he spent the second half of his life. However, Chopin’s musical influence transcended borders and reached faraway places, including the small island of Curaçao in the Caribbean. Now, a local event combining live music and film screening supported by the UW-Madison Polish Studies program will explore this unknown connection as a way of celebrating Poland’s Independence Day on November 11.

The event will take place on Thursday, November 11, and serve as a music-and-film prelude to the 2021 edition of the Madison Polish Film Festival the following Sunday, November 14. It will consist of two parts. The first part will include an hour-long documentary about the influence of Chopin’s legacy in the Caribbean island of Curaçao, located some 40 miles north of the coast of Venezuela. The director, Agnieszka Lipiec-Wróblewska, will be present for Q&A. Following the screening, Grażyna Auguścik (vocals) and Paul Bedal (piano) will perform a live music show “Chopin in Jazz.”

The event is co-sponsored by the UW–Madison Polish Student Association and Grażyna Auguścik’s Sounds and Notes Foundation, organizer of the annual “Chopin in The City” festival in Chicago, with support from the UW–Madison Polish Studies program, Cafe Coda, and Mad-PolKA. The evening with Frédéric Chopin’s music and his legacy will be hosted by Cafe Coda on Madison’s Near East Side.

Chopin. Caribbean Key (2020, dir. Agnieszka Lipiec-Wróblewska)

The documentary Chopin. Caribbean Key (Antyle Chopina in Polish) explores Frédéric Chopin’s rich legacy through the lens of the local music in Curaçao. As his music reached the Caribbean island, it inspired the creation of “Caribbean Mazurka.” The documentary features classical, jazz, and ethnic interpretations of Chopin’s music and interviews highlighting his significance in the local culture. Directed by Agnieszka Lipiec-Wróblewska, the documentary was nominated in the category of television performing arts and shown at the Prix Italia 2021 festival in Milan, Italy. It also premiered in Curaçao in June 2021.

“It is a story about the Antilian history of Chopin’s music and the fate of its creators. The music of the greatest Polish composer, Fryderyk Chopin, reached the Caribbean Island of Curaçao in the 19th century. It inspired local musicians to compose the ‘Caribbean Mazurka,’” reads the official film description. 

Chopin. Caribbean Key (Pol. Antyle Chopina) official trailer:

“For many years the piece has been known as the national dance of Curaçao. The music and its variations reflect the tragic history of the island and although the tunes are seemingly distant, they profoundly resemble Chopin’s compositions. The film centers on Randal Corsen, the most outstanding local pianist, who plans to write pieces inspired by Chopin, for traditional instruments and in some new arrangements. He is joined by Janusz Olejniczak, an internationally recognized composer, enthusiast and interpreter of Chopin’s music. The artists intend to invite contemporary musicians from Curaçao, who have not yet played Chopin, to perform the music together.”

Chopin in Jazz

Grażyna Auguścik, who will perform in the second part of the evening, is a singer, composer, arranger, and producer. Dubbed a “music machine” by the JazzTimes magazine, she began her music career in Europe and then studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. She has since performed with such jazz musicians as Michael and Randy Brecker, Jim Hall, John Medeski, Paul Wertico, Urszula Dudziak, Michał Urbaniak, and others. Among her many accolades are the Best Jazz Vocalist titles awarded by the prominent European Jazz Forum Magazine (2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2016). She also received the Twirlie Nomination for Top 15 Female Vocalists and was nominated for Best Female Vocalist of 2002 at the 22nd Annual Chicago Music Awards. In 2011, she received Poland’s Ministry of Culture award for the best performer and jazz musician and the Outstanding Pole in Abroad. Grażyna is a native of Poland and is based in Chicago, Illinois.

Paul Bedal is a versatile composer and performer whose work ranges from solo piano to music for film and various media platforms. Born in the Chicago area, Paul holds a BA in Studio Music and Jazz from the University of Miami in Florida and an MA in Music Composition for the Screen from Columbia College Chicago. Paul can be heard on recordings with notable ensembles in the Midwest and has four albums under his name to date. Aside from Grażyna Auguścik, he has recorded and performed with artists Matt Ulery, Nick Mazzarella, Marquis Hill, Charles Rumback, Caroline Davis, and many more. Paul’s most recent quartet release Cerulean Stars was included in the March roundup of “Best Jazz Albums” on Bandcamp.

Useful information and links

Date: November 11, 2021 (Thursday)

Location: Cafe Coda, 1224 Williamson Street, Madison, WI 53703

Tickets: $20 (online/at the door)

Event page on Facebook:

Event page on Isthmus:


Read also:

Announcing Madison Polish Film Festival 2021

Lapinski Scholarship Winners Highlight Importance of Polish Language in Connecting with Family and Building Communities

Polish Student Association Offers a Menu of Activities for Students Hungry for Polish Culture

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UW–Madison Polish Studies Program

Educating the Wisconsin public about the Polish language, literature, and culture since 1936.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Polish Studies Program is the oldest academic program in the United States focused on the study and teaching of the Polish language, literature, and culture. UW–Madison Polish studies offer a comprehensive package of Polish language, literature, and culture courses, a generous scholarship program designed exclusively for its students, and various extracurricular activities each academic year.

The program, dating back to 1935, offers beginning, intermediate, and advanced Polish language courses, in addition to intensive Polish courses for heritage speakers and (under)graduate students. In 2011, the program received the prestigious Polonicum Award Distinction from the University of Warsaw for its achievements in promoting the Polish language and knowledge about Polish culture and history. The UW–Madison Polish program also offers a broad range of Polish culture courses on Polish film, contemporary Polish culture, Polish migration to the Americas, a survey of Polish culture from the Middle Ages to modern times, Polish comedy culture, and post-communism.

Each year, the UW Polish program awards scholarships for tuition through the Lapinski fund to undergraduate and graduate students studying the Polish language, literature, and culture. The Polish Student Association (PSA) provides a space for all students interested in events, activities, and learning about Poland and Polish culture. In collaboration with the Polish program faculty, the PSA also co-organizes the Madison Polish Film Festival, an annual celebration of Polish cinematography in Madison, Wisconsin, now in its 31st edition.