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Tiempo Libre

Lincoln Journal Star

Tiempo Libre celebrates American radio with CD

Lincoln Journal Star

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

by Jeff Korbelik

When Jorge Gómez was a teenager in Cuba, he often climbed to his rooftop at night with aluminum foil and wire coat hangers.

There he fashioned an antenna in order to pick up music emanating from Miami radio stations.

It was unlike anything he had heard before. Michael Jackson. Chaka Khan. Cuba's own Gloria Estefan. His favorite: Earth, Wind and Fire.

"It was like, ‘Wow, what is that?'" Gómez said in a phone interview to promote his band Tiempo Libre's Friday concert at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. "Can we dance to that?"

The thing was, what Gómez did -- listening to American radio -- was illegal. If caught, he said, you received a warning. The next time you could go to jail.

"You never knew, if you know what I mean," he said.

So influenced by this time in his life, Gómez and his bandmates created an album from it. Tiempo Libre released "My Secret Radio" in May, with an 11-song CD featuring the group's signature timba music -- a mix of Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Concertgoers will hear many of those songs during the Tiempo Libre concert, which the Lied booked as part of its 2011-12 season.

The songs include lyrics that capture both sides of the immigrant experience -- from the secret radio sessions that fueled dreams of life in America to the starting of that life.

"The CD is the story of our lives living in Cuba," Gómez said. "Every song is a piece of me."

Childhood friends, the band's seven members individually fled from Cuba and eventually reunited in Miami, where they enjoyed thriving careers performing, touring and recording with such artists as Albita, Cachao and Arturo Sandoval.

In their tiempo libre -- free time in Spanish -- they would come together and play music, which led to the formation of the first all-Cuban timba group.

"Everybody had the same idea, the same dream," Gómez said.

The dream has led them to performances all over the world, including appearances on "The Tonight Show" and "Dancing With the Stars."

The band's first recording for Sony Masterworks, "Bach in Havana" (May 2009) earned a Grammy nomination for best tropical Latin album. It featured a fusion of Bach with Afro-Cuban rhythms and included performances by Paquito D'Rivera and Yosvany Terry.

"There is not one moment when we take what we have for granted," Gómez said. "Every record we make, every concert we play seems like a gift."

You can imagine how Gómez reacted when he received an invitation to play with Earth, Wind and Fire at a concert in New Jersey.

"I'll never forget it," he said. "I'm sure they looked at me and wondered why this grown man wanted to play with them. For me, it was unbelievable."

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