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Tiempo Libre

Tiempo Libre, Amaturo Theatre, Broward Center for the Performing Arts

Friday, November 27, 2009

by Jacira Castro

The first 100% Cuban Timba band in the United States, Tiempo Libre founded by Jorge Gómez, the keyboardist and musical director, took the stage at the Amaturo Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, the day after Thanksgiving. They opened with a lengthy jazz intro with instrumental solos that showed off the tremendous talent of each and every band member, especially the bass player, Tebelio Fonte (who speaks fluent German, as heard in the sound check prior to the concert!) with his trademark kilt, and the drummer, Armando Arce (Pututi 3), brother #3 in an immensely musically talented family.

The second song came from their Grammy nominated album, Lo que Esperabas. Bate que bate! Lots of hip action and a funky back beat had some of the audience members wiggling in their seats, but this venue has no dance space - what a shame!

Their third number was an animated reinterpretation of a traditional Cuban song, Pare Cochero, which was included on their 2006 Grammy nominated album, Arroz con Mango. They were accompanied by a group of students from the University Center for the Performing Arts who, unfortunately, had no clue whatsoever about Cuban style salsa. They looked particularly pathetic marking like L.A. style dancers with all the Hollywood dips and lifts that have absolutely nothing to do with Cuban style dance. To make matters worse, the choreography was horrendous. At one point, two of the three couples stood absolutely still and pointed to the third couple, and then took turns pointing to a different couple. BORING!

I know it was not the band's idea to have these dancers on stage, but whoever made that decision needs to do their homework. This was a bit like having German dancers with lederhosen dance an Irish jig during the Nutcracker Suite. Right. They just don't go together. It was very unfortunate that the dancers were even there, but like the true professionals that they are, Tiempo Libre just carried on. Fortunately, the students only danced one number and the audience was spared any further detraction.

The next number was the traditional Guantanamera, but with audience participation. The lead singer, Joaquín Díaz, known as "El Kid", has a sweet, velvety and sensual voice, and moves like one of the best Cuban dancers anywhere in the world. He could easily have taught those students how to really dance Cuban style! His stage presence reminds me a lot of Paulo FG, known for his sensuality in front of an audience. The young women in the theater could barely contain themselves!

Then, from the back of the auditorium, the Trombonist, Cristóbal Ferrer, walked down the isle while playing, trying to engage the audience. This was a particularly difficult crowd of people to please. It certainly wasn't your typical salsa fanatic group of folks. Many were older, non-Latinos and sat steadfast in their chairs, arms crossed... it is unfathomable to me how they resisted the contagious rhythms of this amazing band that routinely fills huge stadiums around the world.

What is wrong with the south Florida public that they don't support this music?

The next number, Manos pa'rriba (from Lo que Esperabas) finally got some people up on their feet. This is pure joy and celebration with a funky, sensual beat! This group has tremendous showmanship which does appeal to a broader audience than just Cubans or Cubaphiles (even if they don't or can't dance). The musicians even had a little songo line going on stage!

The next song came from their latest album, Bach in Havana and was dedicated to Jorge Luis Pratt, a Cuban pianist. It was done in a Guaguancó rhythm. It was followed by another traditional Cuban song, El Cuarto de Tula, which usually gets people up dancing, but in this case, only a handful of the audience did so, in the aisles.

After the intermission they started with an instrumental cha-cha-chá from the Bach in Havana album, then followed with Arrebata'o (from Lo que Esperabas). The next number, La Cosa, comes from their earlier album, Arroz Con Mango and is full of the double entendres for which Cubans are so famous. Then they did a delicious Timba interpretation of La Negra Tomasa, a traditional Cuban melody with a non-sensical chorus: Kikiri-bu, mandinga!

The night finished up with A Bayamó en coche from the Lo que esperabas album, a conga from the Bach in Havana album, and a bicultural number, the title song from Arroz con Mango, thanking this country for the opportunities given them. The tumbadora player, Leandro González, has quite the voice, and did a vocal solo that showed he is capable of more than just background vocals. Luís Beltrán came out and did a saxophone solo that was born from his soul and connected directly to the dancers' hearts.

Of course, the audience demanded an encore, and Tiempo Libre obliged with La Llave from the Lo que esperabas album, ...a number meant to leave the audience clamoring for more!

The night was over too quickly, in my humble opinion. I could easily listen to this group for hours on end, but alas, they don't play very often in south Florida. I can't wait for next time!

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