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Tiempo Libre set for Straz Center / Tampa Bay Times

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As students studying classical music at a conservatory in Havana, Jorge Gomez and his friends were told by teachers that learning Afro-Cuban tunes was a waste of their talents so not to bother. Then, during the height of the Cold War, Gomez said, they were told by the Cuban government that listening to any English-language music - especially from America - was prohibited. Gomez and friends ignored both directives.

And now, as the seven-piece United States-based band Tiempo Libre ( Raul Rodriguez, Wilber Rodriguez, Jorge Gomez, Leandro Gonzalez, Xavier Mili Saint-Ives, Luis Beltran, and Israel Morales, they combine these once-forbidden genres with their classical music training to create a sound that has won them three Grammy nominations plus audiences in places such as TV's The Tonight Show. Next up for Tiempo Libre - a performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts "Coming to Tampa is fantastic," said Gomez, 45, the band's keyboardist and musical director, who currently lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "There are a lot of Cubans in Tampa who enjoy experiencing their culture."

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