Tiempo Libre wants audience on their feet | TheUnion.com

Tiempo Libre wants audience on their feet

Tiempo Libre easily embodies what the California WorldFest is all about – an unwavering desire to bring the band members’ heritage to other countries.

“We’re reinterpreting many of the traditional songs of Cuba – Lagrimas Negras, Guanabo Relleno, Bilongo – and writing new compositions, as well,” said Jorge Gómez, the group’s director, pianist and songwriter last Friday. “We want to represent what Cuba was, what Cuba is and what Cuba will be, through our music.”

Tiempo Libre was founded in 2001 by Gómez and six other Cuban immigrants, all classically trained at Havana’s most prestigious music conservatories. The seven Cuban friends individually defected to Miami, joining different bands before forming Tiempo Libre to play timba, the beloved music of their homeland.

“We all left Cuba for a combination of things. Life in Cuba economically is terrible; there’s many problems as to the availability of food, gasoline, the basic necessities of life,” Gómez explained. “Also, we left for the freedom to perform. In Cuba, it’s much more difficult to realize your musical dreams because there’s so many more limitations, fewer opportunities, very limited access to traveling outside of the country.”

Immediately after creating Tiempo Libre, group members rapidly began to experience those dreams.

Tiempo Libre opened for Celia Cruz before more than 12,000 audience members two summers ago at the Ravinia Festival. Last summer, Tiempo Libre returned to the Ravinia Festival to share the bill with Aretha Franklin and perform before a crowd of 20,000. Tiempo Libre entertained at the Heineken Jazz Festival in Hua Hin, Thailand, last summer, going back to Asia a few months later to play a sold-out concert in Hong Kong. This past March, Tiempo Libre returned to Asia for two sold-out shows in Malaysia.

Tiempo Libre translates to “free time.”

“Right now,” Gómez laughed, “we can call it ‘busy time.'” From last month to the middle of next month, the band is on the road throughout the United States, before resuming a new tour this September.

The group’s style, or timba, is salsa mixed with jazzy elements and brass sounds.

“The harmonies sound much more contemporary. It’s literally a mix of salsa and son, a dance style which is the precursor to salsa, traditional Cuban music,” said Elizabeth Sobol, the group’s manager and translator. “Much of Tiempo Libre’s mission is taking traditional songs and reinterpreting them in a youthful contemporary way.”

The songs, in Spanish, take on an American influence of sorts.

“We’re interpreting our Cuban music from a new locale with new arrangements, new rhythmic feel,” Gómez said. “These songs won’t sound like rock ‘n’ roll, but the texture and arrangements reflect our lives in Cuba and our lives here. It’s a perfect mix of the two worlds.”

Living in the United States since 2000, Gómez said his group “would love to go back to Cuba and perform if the world situation was different. But the current world situation doesn’t permit that.”

The group’s founder “profoundly” misses Cuba.

“It’s a magical place. Cuba’s an enchanted place, a beautiful island with beautiful beaches, and sun and palm beaches and this incredible music and people,” Gómez said. “In Cuba, life is based in music; you can’t escape it because it bubbles up on every street, so spontaneous with everyone making music.”

For now, though, Tiempo Libre members remain steadfast in reaching their long-term goals: that Cuban music becomes known worldwide and that their group is responsible for that occurrence. The group has already established itself in much of Asia and the United States.

Besides teaching a rumba dance workshop Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Tiempo Libre will perform at the California WorldFest two hours later and then close the festival at 8:30 p.m.

Band members are just as comfortable playing to small crowds as to large crowds.

“It doesn’t matter how many people are there. Our goal is everyone enjoys. When we see people up on their feet dancing, that’s marvelous,” Gómez added. “We’re hoping everyone there enjoys the concerts and is prepared for concerts that are utterly filled with energy and joy. And everyone should dance, whether they can dance or not.”

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