TO Spanish-speaking kids around the world, Canberra’s Frank Madrid Irazabal is “Francisco, the Red Wiggle” in the Latino franchise of the children’s program.
To the arts community in Canberra, he’s the enabler behind exciting gigs and arts events over the years, and now he’s been appointed as producer for the 25th anniversary National Multicultural Festival in 2022.
It’s been a big year for the Venezuelan-born Madrid on both counts.
To begin with, the Latino Wiggles, “Los Wiggles” – created around 2006 and now made up of Madrid as the Red Wiggle; Katty Villafuerte from Goulburn, the Purple Wiggle; Zoe Velez, the Blue Wiggle and Fernando Moguel, the Yellow Wiggle – have undergone a revival this year with Latino and Taiwanese shows underway.
In June, the first episode of the fortnightly “Latin American Wiggles Show” was released on the official Wiggles YouTube channel, with songs such as Spanish versions of “Henry’s Dance”, “Shaky Shaky” and “D.O.R.O.T.H.Y. (My Favourite Dinosaur)”.
“It’s so much fun,” Madrid says, “you’ll see me dancing and jumping.”
With two million viewers tuning in through the Wiggles channel, he believes the likely impact of the show will be “massive… it’s a very intimate connection with the viewer, allowing us to relate to the children”.
Meantime, he applied for and got the plum job of producer for the National Multicultural Festival, working with the festival’s senior director, Azra Khan, to celebrate diversity and representation, and to promote social cohesion.
When I catch up with Madrid, he’s been reflecting on how the word “multiculturalism” was effectively banned from public discourse during the Howard era and says: “We need to reclaim and be happy and be proud of multiculturalism… I am delighted to be part of a team given the task of putting an event on, an event so loved by Canberrans.”
Madrid says he will be working on the curatorial side bringing together all those things that come to mind when you think of a festival, designing that “sweet spot” between community representation and the best input possible.
Madrid praises Khan’s professional leadership, saying: “I feel like I’m in great hands, I’m confident that when the festival selected me, they looked at my history and I will bring that in.
“A festival tests the senses – the hearing, when you think of world music, and the sight, when you see all Canberrans coming together celebrating diversity and the experiences that make for social cohesion… I will reach out to those communities to make sure that the legacy of 25 years remains and I will bring in new people.”
The Multicultural Festival means a lot to Madrid, who first came across the event when its founder Domenic Mico was in charge.
He feels totally at home in his adopted city. Serendipitously, when he arrived in Canberra during 2004, he was fresh from having been a “handbag” while his partner worked at the Australian embassy in Brasília, so had “learnt Portuguese and how to live in a planned city”.
“What happened there was magical, there was a rich artistic community that you couldn’t see easily, you had to find it.”
Once he’d worked out how to drive around the Canberra roundabouts – these days he drives the Big Red Boat for The Wiggles – he reached out to Mico, who was very welcoming, as was then-multicultural boss Nic Manikis.
Now almost 20 years later, he’s happily settled in Canberra with his partner Andy and their poodle and believes that producing in Canberra is easier, “because people here are thirsty to explore new things”.
He was momentarily seduced by the bright lights of Sydney when he did a masters in arts administration through the Australian Institute of Music and I, for one, can testify that his after-show party for the opening of Baz Luhrmann’s “Strictly Ballroom The Musical” was the sassiest and most extravagant on record.
While in The Big Smoke he also worked for Parramatta City Council producing a Thai water festival, New Year and Lo Krathong.
Back in Canberra, Madrid’s been a presenter for Artsound, marketing officer for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and producer of the PuraVida Roadshow, but it is for his large-scale arts initiatives that he is best known.
One of his personal highlights was taking Canberra to Brasília in 2013 as part of Robyn Archer’s international outreach during the Centenary of Canberra. That saw a local poet, rapper and DJ performing in front of Brazil’s National Library.
Another highlight was producing the inaugural Australia Day at Summerstage in Central Park New York in 2010, where he brought an array of indigenous art from the ACT, Victoria, NSW, Tasmania and indigenous Australia.
As for “Los Wiggles”, that was first directed by Anthony Field’s brother Paul in 2006, filmed around Sydney, at the zoo and on the Gold Coast. This time around, the problem was trying to get to Sydney to film during lockdown, but so far, so good.
Madrid sees the Latino Wiggles as part of a commitment to diversity and says: “It’s a way of ensuring that we celebrate difference – it makes sense that Spanish speakers have The Wiggles, too – it’s very multicultural.”
Frank’s happy to take suggestions regarding artists for the National Multicultural Festival at Frank.Madrid@act.gov.au
Los Wiggles are at YouTube.com/user/TheWigglesPtyLtd
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