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Tiempo Libre

Condé Naste Traveler

Sir James Galway: Strolling O'Reilly Street with Tiempo Libre

Condé Naste Traveler

Thursday, September 18, 2008

by John Oseid

A history lesson was the last thing I was expecting the other night at Drom, a tapas bar and music venue in New York's East Village. But there on stage, Sir James Galway, the renowned Irish flautist, spun an intriguing tale of General Alexander O'Reilly and his significance to Cuba. I know Havana well from having covered the restoration of Old Havana for Conde Nast Traveler ("Old Havana gets a Face-Lift," Stop Press, July 1999), and I've walked Calle O'Reilly many times. But I never realized the street was named for a general from Dublin, nor that General "Alejandro" was responsible for fortifying Spain's treasured New World city.

In a section of this five-minute video clip, Jimmy, as Galway is called, discusses O'Reilly and the surprisingly deep cultural links between Ireland and Cuba. He's talking to members of the Miami-based Cuban group Tiempo Libre.

Which brings me to our tale at hand, that of Galway and Tiempo Libre coming together to produce their newly released album O'Reilly Street. To make the multicultural, crossover, whatever-word-you-want-project album even broader, they built it around the Claude Bolling Suites, the first one of which the famous French jazz artist and composer Bolling wrote in 1975. In the liner notes, Galway says, "the idea was to Cubanize the Bolling." Indeed, the addition of congas makes for a whole new sound. The guaguancó rhythm is "like two dancers doing a jig and a rumba at the same time." The crowd at Drom loved it.

The Cuban-trained musicians of Tiempo Libre are a story in themselves. Graduates of Havana's famed National School of the Arts, they play timba, a sort of salsa offshoot. Here's a clip of them performing "Manos Pa'rriba" (Hands in the Air) off their 2006 album What You've Been Waiting For/Lo Que Esperabas.


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