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Tiempo Libre

Chicago Sun Times

Tiempo Libre loving the music life in U.S.

Chicago Sun Times

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

by Laura Emerick

When Jorge Gomez and the Latin music group Tiempo Libre settled on the title “My Secret Radio” for their latest disc, they were putting it mildly.

As young musicians living in Cuba under Castro, they were forbidden to listen to American music over the airwaves or on records. Ever resourceful, they made their own radio antennas out of aluminum foil and wire hangers. At night, they would sneak up to their rooftops and use the makeshift antennas to pull in music broadcast from Miami, 90 miles away.

“It was the ’80s, and we loved the music of Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Chaka Khan and Earth, Wind and Fire,” recalled Gomez, music director, composer and pianist for Tiempo Libre, which will perform Oct. 22 at the Old Town School of Folk Music. “But we had to wait until 1 a.m. and then go up to the roof. In Cuba, they use a lot of filters to block out American broadcasts. So we had to make our own radios.”

Fast forward to 2000, when Gomez arrived in the United States and a year later, formed Tiempo Libre (which means “Free Time” in English) with fellow alums of Cuba’s prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte.

They specialize in Cuban timba, which might sound like salsa to the average listener, but timba mixes Latin jazz with Cuban son, and as Gomez points out, “is much more aggressive and improvisational.”

Besides, many timba artists insist that funk and soul have influenced them more than salsa. “Timba is a revolution of Cuban music,” he said of the genre, which uses electric bass and synthesizers (unlike traditional son/salsa). “They were trying to know more things outside of Cuba. The bass in timba is more funky, much more American in its sound.”

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