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Tiempo Libre

Hollywood Soapbox

INTERVIEW: Tiempo Libre’s Jorge Gómez goes international with ‘Panamericano’

Hollywood Soapbox

Thursday, May 21, 2015

by John Soltes

Jorge Gómez, the founder of Afro-Caribbean group Tiempo Libre, is focusing the band’s attention on a much broader audience for its new album, Panamericano, due out June 30 from Universal Music Latin Entertainment and Universal Music Classics. The music goes beyond the Cuban influences of Tiempo Libre’s previous albums and emphasizes the common threads in many cultures from Latin America.

“Panamericano means all people from Latin America, so from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela,” Gómez said recently during a phone interview. “So the context of the music is going to be a mix of all this culture.”

The band, founded 14 years ago and consisting of seven members, began working on Panamericano after being influenced by the music they heard in the United STates. He and his friends live in Miami, a city he called “very cosmopolitan,” like Manhattan. “You walk like 2 feet, and you know somebody from Argentina, from Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico,” he said.

The interest in other cultures led to the songs on the album; the first two singles, “Dime Que No” with Jean Rodriguez and “Someone to Love Me” with Yunel Cruz, are available this week.

“It’s not the same thing because the other albums that we did is all about Cuba, how much we mean to Cuba, and now the new country,” he said. “Right now, this is our country. This is our culture, and our culture right now is a mix of everything. You walk one block, and you have every restaurant from every world in your same neighborhood — Brazilian, you know, every country. So it’s so easy. We start off in my house and start recording, making some music. I’d say to somebody, ‘Do you have any song we can do?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, I have a song talking about Mexico.’ ‘Let’s do it.’ ‘Well, I’m from Puerto Rico. I’d love to be part of the album.’ ‘OK, let’s do it.’”

Gómez said Panamericano still has rhythms that emanate from Cuba, but the influences from other countries makes this a unique record in their repertoire. “It sounds like Miami style,” he said. “It’s more international.”

Tiempo Libre has found much success since its founding. They have been nominated for three Grammy Awards and appeared on The Tonight Show and Live From Lincoln Center. Gómez’s story began in Cuba and eventually landed him in the United States roughly 15 years ago. He played piano for Cuban singer Albita in those early years and then reconnected with friends from his days at La ENA, Havana’s music conservatory.

“Of course, I’m Cuban,” he said. “When you grow up in Cuba, you have a few things to do. One, sing some music or play some instrument. The other is play dominoes, you know, if you are old enough, smoking a cigar. … That’s the way Cuban lives every day. In Miami, it’s the same thing, but you have to work a lot because you have a lot of bills to pay.”

Tiempo Libre’s success often takes them around the world. A day after Gómez’s interview with Hollywood Soapbox he was headed to China. Later on, they will travel to Spain, Mexico and New York City (Subrosa on July 9-10). In the fall, Tiempo Libre will perform as part of a new theatrical work called Cuba Libre at the Winningstad Theatre in Portland, Oregon. “Cuba Libre is all about our lives in the United States and how was our lives in Cuba,” he said.

He added this on their constant touring: “I love that kind of life because every time we go to stage and play this kind of music, it doesn’t matter what country you are [in], they enjoy so much the music that we play,” he said. “Because every time that we play our music, we become music. And at the same time they would come [not] only to listen, not only dancing, but they become part of our culture. And that’s incredible.”

The bandleader said decisions are dealt with democratically among the other members. Of the seven band members, four have been with Gómez for 13 years, virtually the beginning of Tiempo Libre. “It’s not only about me,” he said. “It’s about our family, how we feel.”

Gómez said he’s living a dream come true, but he’s not finished yet.

“Everyday [you] want to be better than the other day,” he said. “Live in your music, live in your work, and [you] have to be the [most] professional musician in the world to translate the same energy to everybody who listens to your work. … It’s the best job in the world. We travel all the world, and we get paid for that. We play the music that we love to play, and we get paid for that. Also we have a lot of friends. We have been in Macau, Hong Kong … Singapore, Indonesia, London, Mexico, oh my God, so many countries.”

These international encounters leave a lasting impression on Gómez. “I have been learning so many things now that I’m out of Cuba, not only because I live in the United States,” he said. “Every time we visit a different country we learn something new, and that’s incredible. We don’t need Internet to understand how the world works. We go to this place. We meet people. We eat their food. We dance their music. We have a new story every day with them, the real story, and it’s fantastic.”

By John Soltes / Publisher /