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Arts and Entertainment

Afro-Cuban band introduces new music to American audiences
Miami-based Tiempo LIbre has performed with leading orchestras across the country
Published Thursday, February 28, 2013
by Michaela L. Duckett

Growing up in Cuba, members of three-time Grammy nominated band Tiempo LIbre were prohibited from listening to American radio.

The Afro-Cuban band Tiempo Libre is on a mission to introduce American audiences to the mysteriously seductive sound of Cuban music.

“It was illegal to hear American music in Cuba at that time in the ‘80s,” explains Jorge Gómez, the group’s pianist and musical director. “We went to the roof and we made our own antennas and tried to catch any signal. We spent weeks sometimes without hearing anything. Then some lucky day we would hear something and we started recording… We got lucky because we didn’t end up in jail.” 

Now living in the United States, the Afro-Cuban band’s seven members hope to introduce Americans to the mysteriously seductive sound of Cuban music. In celebration of their new American experience, Tiempo Libre has been performing with leading orchestras across the U.S. Last weekend, they performed with the Charlotte Symphony at Belk Theater. The concert included a medley of traditional cha-cha-cha’s and traditional Cuban “sones.”

Tiempo Libre is known for its dance-inducing concerts of timba music, which fuses high-energy Latin jazz with influences of their Cuban heritage and American funk, hip-hop, rap, jazz, ska and pop.

 Since coming to America a little more than a decade ago, the band has performed on National Public Radio, Jazz at the Lincoln Center, “The Tonight Show” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

Tiempo Libre’s latest album, “My Secret Radio,” recalls their teenage years in Cuba, the thrill of American music and the difficulties they faced when leaving behind family and friends to start from scratch in America.

Gómez said through it all the group has stayed true to its heritage, remembering not to ever take a single moment for granted.

“Every record we make, every concert we play seems like a gift,” he said.

Gomez said the thrill he gets while performing on stage is the same thrill he felt “up on that roof under the twinkling Havana stars, listening to my secret radio.”

He recalls listening to the music of Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang and Gloria Estefan. The band still counts Earth Wind & Fire among its favorites, remembering the thrill of American music even though they could not understand the words.

“The only thing we knew was if it’s from the United States it must be good,” Gomez said. “We would sing and play the songs and didn’t know the language.”

Gómez said he hopes American audiences will enjoy a taste of Cuban music through their performances.

“It’s something for everybody from the kids to their grandmas,” he said.


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