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Tiempo Libre

Guelph Mercury

High energy Cuban band plans new twist on Bach with the symphony

Guelph Mercury

Thursday, February 20, 2014

by Valerie Hill

KITCHENER — Many years after they first practised music together in a battered Cuban school room then jury rigged a radio antennae so they could listen to illegal American music, the four friends rediscovered each other a world away.

"It only takes one cellphone," said Jorge Gómez, musical director of the Miami-based Cuban band, Tiempo Libre. "You go to a Cuban restaurant (in Miami) and they say 'you know who is here?'"

Like thousands of other Cubans, Gómez had fled his homeland during the economic crises in 1994 and by 2000 he had found his way to Miami, a place bursting with Cubans. "Miami is like a second Havana," he said.

But Gómez would find more than freedom in his adopted country.

Reconnecting with three of his school friends from Cuba along with three other Cuban musicians, they first played backup for a Cuban singer before branching out on their own as the independent band, Tiempo Libre. On Friday and Saturday night, the high energy band will perform with the K-W Symphony Orchestra at Centre in the Square under the direction of assistant conductor Evan Mitchell.

Gómez warns audience members, this concert will be unlike any other symphony experience.

"You are going to a Cuban dance party," he said, noting dancing in the aisle is not only encouraged but expected.

The group consists of Joaquin Diaz on vocals, Gómez on piano, Luis Beltran Castillo on saxophone and flute, Raul Rodriguez on trumpet, Tebelio Fonte on bass, Armando Arce on drums and Leandro González on congas. Gómez said they also all sing and dance.

Ask about the musical program for their Kitchener debut concert and the list seems endless: medleys, cha cha cha, mambo, sones and boleros among others.

Gómez said performing with symphonies has become standard fare for the band largely because the Latin/African beats blend so beautifully with classical styles of music.

"Bach, he wrote music with the same timing: two plus two equals four," he said. It's the same language we use in Afro/Cuban rhythms.

"Audiences always say 'I hear classical music but I want to dance to it.'"

Gómez said all the band members were trained at highly respected national conservatories in Havana, learning the Russian-style of classical music during the day while playing traditional Cuban music at night. They also listened to the pirated airwaves coming in from Miami and any music they could find on illegal tape recordings. With so many musical influences, Tiempo Libre quickly developed its own unique style which has brought them to international attention. The band has recorded with virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell and flute player Sir James Galway. They have appeared at Lincoln Center, on The Tonight Show and Dancing with the Stars and recently began crossing the border to perform across Canada after having their debut in Toronto in 2010.

The band's recording, Bach in Havana earned the group its third Grammy nomination and was described as a landmark recording, comparing it to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue released five decades earlier. It was heady praise and Gómez is still stymied by how much attention the group has received since its first recording received a Grammy nomination. They wrote the album, recorded it and bam, it was nominated, all at blistering speed, he said.

Why are they so popular? Gómez is too modest. "I have no idea."

Their most recent recording, My Secret Radio on the Sony Music label was released in 2011 and the group is working on their next recording, to be released in June which includes half a dozen of their closest musical friends.

"It's about friendship, it's about my neighbourhood, Miami Beach," said Gómez. "All my friends, we go to play pool, have lots of parties and we thought 'why don't we plan Tiempo Libre and Friends.' "

News services

Tiempo Libre with the K-W Symphony

Friday, Feb. 21 & Saturday, Feb. 22, 8 p.m.

Centre In the Square, 101 Queen St. N. Kitchener

Tickets start at $19 online at or by

call 519-745-4711 or 1-888-745-4717