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Tiempo Libre

Afropop Worldwide

My Secret Timba: Jorge Gómez & Tiempo Libre

Afropop Worldwide

Monday, March 28, 2011

When he was teenager growing up in Havana, Jorge Gómez, director and keyboard player for the Miami-based timba band Tiempo Libre, would often climb to his rooftop in the wee hours of the morning. With his boombox rigged to a homemade antenna fashioned from metal clothes hangers and aluminum foil, carefully hidden from the prying eyes of nosy neighbors and government inspectors, he listened to the latest tunes beaming out of radio stations from across the Florida Straits. Like many Cubans, Jorge and his bandmates were proud heirs to the island’s fertile music culture but, at the same time, intensely curious about what was going on elsewhere in the music world, especially in the United States.

Perched on that Havana rooftop, the radio was not just a treasured source of unknown music but a dream machine. “We were teenagers,” Jorge recalls, “and it was very hard to listen to that music without fantasizing about what it would be like to live in the U.S., to be a musician there, to have a whole new existence in a place that was free and open.” “In a way,” he adds, “those were the moments that filled us with yearning, desire and the strength that it took to leave it all – families, friends, a country, a life – behind to pursue those dreams.” Now, after ten years of performing in the U.S. and playing a leading role in the development of timba, a heavily percussive- and horn-driven Cuban dance music (música bailable), it’s likely that Tiempo Libre’s latest timba is among the tunes beaming through one of those secret, rooftop radios somewhere in Havana.

The group’s new album My Secret Radio, a reference to those clandestine radio transmissions that marked the group’s adolescent years on the island, releases on May 3rd. Following on the heels of three Grammy nominations, the band’s fifth studio album chronicles both sides of the immigrant experience – from secret radio sessions which fueled dreams of life in America to the perplexities of starting life in a new country. If there are any standout tracks on the new album then the infectious “San Antonio” is surely the best contender. In fact, if it wasn’t for the lyrics, which pay homage to San Antonio, Texas and its people, who enthusiastically embraced the band several years ago, this hip-shaking timba sounds like it could have just as easily been the latest EGREM recording to blast from the makeshift, heavily amplified soundsystem of some passing Lada or inner-city solar in Central Havana.

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