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Tiempo Libre

The Plainsman

Grammy-Nominated Cuban Music Group to Perform

The Plainsman

Thursday, October 1, 2009

by Helen Northcutt

The two-time Grammy nominated Cuban music group will put on one big party at the Opelika Center for the Performing Arts Oct. 1.

“Tiempo Libre’s show is an energetic and dynamic performance of timba music, which is a combination of Latin jazz and traditional Cuban song,” said Allison Ravenscroft, public relations agent for Tiempo Libre.

Tiempo Libre is a Miami-based music group, but every member is originally from Cuba.

All of the members were classically trained at La ENA, a premiere Russian-style conservatory in Havana.

The members of Tiempo Libre lived in Cuba during a time when listening to American radio was strictly prohibited by the Cuban government.

“They told us we couldn’t listen to American music, that we would be put in prison if we tried,” said Jorge Gomez, pianist and musical director for Tiempo Libre. “We rigged up improvised antennas out of coat hangers and aluminum foil, hidden in our bedrooms and listened to Earth, Wind & Fire, Cool and the Gang, Chaka Khan and many others on American radio, secretly, late at night.”

Now Tiempo Libre is a sensation in the U.S. with shows all around the country.

“We love the United States, this great country that opened its doors to us,” Gomez said. “And we love traveling all around it, seeing new places and sharing our Cuban culture with so many different people in different places. So we are very excited to come to Opelika.”

When members of the group first arrived in Miami they were told no one wanted to listen to timba by the Cuban community.

“They told us that Americans were no longer interested in Cuban music and that they would never embrace this intense, dance-frenzied form of music that is almost like a religion to us,” Gomez said. “They told us Americans couldn’t understand this music, they didn’t speak Spanish and they didn’t dance.”

The band soon discovered the tough impressions of Cuban music were wrong.

“Against all odds, we all managed to leave Cuba and arrive in the United States,” Gomez said. “We all managed to find each other again in Miami and formed a Timba band.”

Members lived through many years of deprivation and sacrifice in Cuba.

“The music is amazing,” Ravenscroft said. “They also tell the story of how they started out as students together.”

Tiempo Libre is also preparing for the release of their new album, Bach in Havana, May 5.

The album uses Bach as a starting point for inspiration. It is a reflection of the two worlds of Tiempo Libre’s classical music upbringing at La ENA. Bach wrote music in the secular and spiritual traditions, and the band was interested in weaving classical traditions in its music.

“We are proud of our new lives and the fact that we are living our dreams: making a living as musicians – Cuban musicians – carrying the music we love, the tradition we love, to appreciate audiences around the world,” Gomez said. “We are proud of the recordings we have made and of the many classes we give to people of all ages. We are proud of our heritage of Cubans, and we are proud of being residents of this wonderful country which opened its doors and hearts to us.”

The group is also excited about visiting Auburn and sharing its music with the Auburn community.

“We all met each other when we were students, so it’s always special to have students at our concerts,” Gomez said. “Everything we do is about energy – joyful energy – and we hope the Auburn University students bring their energy to our concert.”

The Tiempo Libre’s performance begins at 7:30 p.m.

Kathryn Ozyurt, administrative assistant for the Opelika Center for the Performing Arts, said they are expecting 1,100 people to attend the show.

“Every seat is an excellent seat in the Opelika Performing Arts Center,” Ozyurt said. “We are anticipating a wild crowd. Tiempo Libre is known for getting everyone up on their feet.”

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