Tiempo Libre means "free time" in Spanish, a phrase that perfectly describes the feel and themes of this Miami-based Afro-Cuban band. Tiempo Libre's music feels like a summer Saturday afternoon when the worries of the week are left behind and it's time to relax and enjoy life. Making their shows feel more like a yard party than a concert, the Afro-Cuban music is jazzy and funky with flashes of hip-hop and folk peppered throughout.
"Part of our mission in Tiempo Libre is to make every performance a true party," says pianist and founder Jorge Gomez. "A celebration of life and music—getting people up and dancing and forgetting all their cares and inhibitions. I can say that over the course of our 13-year history, there have been only a handful of times when the audience didn't end up on their feet dancing, moving."
It is almost impossible not to move something while listening to Tiempo Libre and that stems from its roots in timba music. Timba differs from salsa not just in sound, but in origin. The genre combines aspects of rumba, guaguanco (percussive rumba) and batá drumming with the ideas of polytheistic Santeria worship. During its modern explosion, timba stepped from the shadow of rumba and started applying jazz, funk, rock and Puerto Rican folk to the sound. In the 1990s when the Soviet Union fell and Cuba's economy struggled, the rise of timba music helped stimulate the nightlife as tourists flooded the cities.
Most Americans' familiarity with Cuban music began with the Buena Vista Social Club album in 1997. Ry Cooder traveled to Cuba and recorded with local musicians who were mostly unheard of outside their area. This record (and subsequent documentary) made Cuba real in such a way that a majority of non Miami-based Americans hadn't known. This started a bit of a love affair with Cuban music in the US, and shed light on the legendary music scene of Havana in the 1950s.
That connection with Cuban music has carried over to the success of Tiempo Libre. Even for non-Spanish speaking listeners, the band's music feels personal.
"Music is how we live our lives and so our songs are, by definition, personal" says Gomez. "But we are also touching on universal themes: life, love, longing, sadness, joy. It has been very gratifying that so many different kinds of audiences and listeners have embraced our music. I suppose it might, in fact, be that mix of the personal and the universal that appeals. People are attracted by the 'otherness' of Cuba, particularly given the history between our two countries. But at the same time, they feel in our songs those basic deep emotions that link us all...those things that make us human."
Tiempo Libre is Miami-based, but all members are Cuban-born. The band, formed in 2001, has taken its love of Afro-Cuban music and set out to become the first authentic Cuban timba band in the United States. Fifteen years later, the group has been nominated for three Grammys, has signed with its biggest record label yet (Universal Music Latin Entertainment) and is now touring all over the world.
Whether it's an intimate indoor venue or a massive outdoor one, Tiempo Libre finds the act of playing music rewarding in and of itself. "Music is not only how we make a living, it is how we live," says Gomez. "When we are together, we make music, because that is the way in which we connect with each other and the world. So that means that we don't have a preference in the size of the venue or if our concert is outside or inside, so long as we are communicating with our audiences and hopefully giving them a taste of our Cuban musical joy. That said, there is definitely something unique and magical about being outdoors in a beautiful setting—like Bend!"
If English is your first and only language, do not be discouraged. The joy of simple human connection rings forth in each of Tiempo Libre's songs. For music, after all, is the universal language.
June 5, 2:30 p.m.
Les Schwab Amphitheater,
344 Shevlin Hixon Dr., Bend