“Arroz con Mango”

Jorge Gomez’s Tiempo Libre is a Latin-American music group specializing in timba. A relative of the better known salsa, timba is a style native to Cuba. The goal of their music, according to Gomez, is “to teach the world about timba. We want to communicate energy to everyone in the audience. We want everyone to stand up and dance.”

Describing Tiempo Libre’s music is almost impossible without reaching into the grab bag of multisyllabled words. Vivacious, eclectic, jazz-infused, and vibrant are the first terms that come to mind. As a radio-obsessed teenager who swallows up mainstream pop culture in heaping doses, my only real experience with Latin-American music before Tiempo Libre was the more popular reggaeton style. Gomez notes that there are big differences between reggaeton and other types of Latin-American music. “Reggaeton is music made with a machine,” he says. “Timba is live music.” Gomez clearly has a desire to teach the world about the music of his native land.

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“Timba is a dying art. That is why we are working so hard to revive it.”

Gomez usually refrains from infusing his songs with political messages, and he notes that the instrumental components are generally more important than the lyrics. Nonetheless, he does not shy away from describing his experience as an immigrant. “Arroz con Mango,” for example, talks about living with both Cuban and American identities. The phrase arroz con mango (rice and mango) serves as the title for the album and this song, and refers to things that seemingly do not belong together. “‘Arroz con Mango’ is about all of the things that changed when we moved from Cuba to the United States,” he says. “Here, people call women honey. In Cuba, it’s mami. Here we eat McDonald’s and pizza; in Cuba we eat rice and beans. The NBA is popular here, but in Cuba we watch baseball.”

One might suspect that it would be difficult living with two identities, but Gomez doesn’t complain. Above all, he wants to be positive. “We want to tell the world how happy we are, and how grateful we are to be in this beautiful country.”

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