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Tiempo Libre

Mail Tribune

'My Secret Radio' goes public

Mail Tribune

Friday, May 13, 2011

by Teresa Thomas

Of his childhood in Cuba, Jorge Gómez recalls making makeshift radio antennas, climbing onto his roof at night and listening to forbidden American music. Songs by Kool & The Gang, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Chick Corea, Pete Jarvis and many others fueled Gómez's desire to live in America.

In 2000, the aspiring keyboardist moved to the United States, after a brief stint in Guatemala, and a year later began the three-time Grammy-nominated group Tiempo Libre. The six other band members — Raúl Rodríguez (trumpet), Tebelio "Tony" Fonte (bass), Leandro Gonzalez (congas), Armando "Pututi" Arce (drums), Joaquin "El Kid" Diaz (lead vocals) and Luis Beltran Castillo (saxophone) — also were raised in Cuba, studied classical music under Russian instructors, listened to "illegal" American radio and dreamed of moving to the U.S. Only by coincidence were they all reunited in Miami, says Gómez.

"We became American from the heart listening to that kind of music, and now we have become American citizens with a passport," he says.

While incorporating American styles, such as pop and jazz, Tiempo Libre has not forgotten its Cuban roots and classical training. The group's most recent album, "My Secret Radio," a mix of timba (jazzy Cuban salsa) and Afro-Cuban rhythms, celebrates American radio and pays homage to their years inside Cuba's musical vacuum during the country's Special Period. The lyrics communicate both angles of the immigrant experience, says Gomez. Some songs reference the band members' days in Havana, and other songs, such as "Mecánica," refer to the difficulties of beginning life in a new country.

The group performs its original music at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

Americans embraced the band, which has played all over the nation and abroad, has appeared on television shows, such as "The Tonight Show" and "Dancing with the Stars," and has received airplay on more than 200 radio stations.

Tiempo Libre has released six CDs and performed on one track of violinist Joshua Bell's album "At Home With Friends." "My Secret Radio" and "Bach in Havana" were recorded on the Sony Masterworks label.

The septet received Grammy-award nominations for "Bach in Havana" (2009), "Lo Que Esperabas" (2006) and "Arroz con Mango" (2005). "Bach in Havana" combines classical and Afro-Cuban rhythms to reflect Tiempo Libre's youth spent studying European music by day and listening to American music by night.

The majority of the band's repertoire is sung in Spanish. However, you don't have to understand the lyrics to appreciate the music, says Gómez.

"It's not if you know how to dance or if you understand the music; it's about the energy," he says. "Everybody in this world has a little Cuban inside."

Gómez doesn't try to hide or deny the American influence on the music.

"We are never going to play American music the way Americans play music," he says.

But just as a chameleon can adapt to its surroundings while still being a chameleon, Tiempo Libre's music contains elements of American culture while still being Cuban, explains Gómez.

Tickets to the show at the Craterian cost $24, $27 and $30; $17, $20 and $23 for ages 18 and younger. Tickets may be purchased at the Craterian box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., Medford; at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

"It's going to be a party with us," promises Gómez. "Everyone is going to sing with us, dance with us and get crazy like us."


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