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Tiempo Libre

Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

World Music: Cuban Rhythms Blend with Bach, Jazz and More

Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Sunday, September 29, 2019

by Jocelyn Murphy

When Jorge Gomez came to America from Cuba in 2000, he didn't hear much Cuban music in the United States. When he reconnected with friends from childhood in Miami and they decided to form a band, executives in the music industry told him he wouldn't be successful performing music from his home country. Nearly 20 years later, Gomez says almost every town, every state, Tiempo Libre travels to has a Cuban or Latino band of its own.

"Everything is more open, not only with the Latino music but everything," Gomez shares. "I have been here in New York going to very different concerts from different parts of the world -- African culture, Russian culture, Australian. And all the concerts are full of people enjoying the music, dancing with them, singing with them; it's all about respect. And it's the same with Cuban music."

t's certainly the same with the music made by Tiempo Libre -- Spanish for "free time," because the band began playing together in their free time. Gomez wants audiences, including the one on Oct. 3 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, to feel free to get up and dance, interact with the band, ask questions if they have any, but most of all, he insists everybody sing.

"You have to tell people that it's not going to be a concert; it's going to be a Cuban party. Those guys bring the best Cuban energy to interacting with" audiences, he enthuses. "No inhibition. It's all about having fun. Even if you don't understand anything about the lyrics, because it's going to be in Spanish most of the time, you have to repeat (sings), 'Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera.' That's it!"

"That's it" may encompass the audience participation piece, but Cuban party still doesn't fully represent Tiempo Libre's music. The seven-member Afro-Cuban group is celebrated for its timba music -- a genre Gomez describes as mixing styles of Latin rhythmic music with elements of jazz. But the Grammy Award-nominated group also blends those influences with classical music and has ventured onto the stage.

Their musical theater piece "Miami Libre" shared the experience of the musicians' immigration story as they left Cuba to pursue their dreams in America, and the 2015 debut of "Cuba Libre" delved into the story of the band as a unit.

"That was the idea to come to the United States, [was] to learn things," Gomez offers. "Because in Cuba, maybe we're going to be playing only salsa or only jazz. But here, we have the possibility to learn different styles of music, not just from America, but from other countries, and also travel and stay with the people.

"The people, they tell us their stories about how much they love their country, their music, their culture, and [then] they look to do something with us together," he continues. "For example, we have been playing with Joshua Bell, he's a classical violinist. At the same time, we [collaborated] with Gloria Estefan -- she's a Cuban singer. It's two completely different worlds, but they converge together just for the music.

"So it's a little of everything right now," Gomez concludes. "It's not just Cuban music. It all about the music -- world music."

read the full article: Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette