At twenty-three, Roberto Tico-González’s music career was taking off. But his country was in the midst of a deep economic crisis. Although his family had determined it was time to leave Cuba, Tico struggled to decide. They would only go if they all went together.
In 2000, Tico emigrated with his family to Miami.
“We managed to leave. But it was difficult to leave Cuba because you’re leaving your culture, your friends, your family or part of your family behind. And a lot of other things that are meaningful to you. Like today, I still miss the ocean.”
When they arrived as refugees in Florida, Tico and his family were given three choices: stay in Miami, go to New York, or travel to Portland.
“They told us, by the way, [Portland] has the best basketball team in the NBA,” he said, laughing. “That was another, like, selling point for us.”
Once in Portland, Tico quickly became involved in local bands. He formed a group called Cuba Ache which is still active today.
“Since the very beginning when we arrived I was being helped by great artists and people from the community that helped introduce me in the artistic scene in Portland, first with the music.”
Tico is a singer, composer, and video producer. Frequently, his projects evolve over the course of years and with the help of those he’s met along his journey from Cuba to Florida to Oregon.
“You need to collaborate with other artists and invite them to be part of your vision, your dreams, to realize them,” he said. “What I love is there is not a definition of art, it’s so open.”
This patience and passion for collaborative art has led Tico to produce award-winning documentaries and to build a reputation for tireless promotion of Cuban music and culture. He recently created a video for “Aunque Se Pare La Mula,” for instance. It began with a song he originally wrote in 2001. Over time, he layered on increasingly complicated musical elements to create the piece as it sounds today.
Tico pursues his multi-faceted passion for videography and music as the Creative Services Senior Producer at Tualatin Valley Community Television (TVC TV). On his show, NW Sounds, he features local musicians.
“We look at musicians but also help them to promote their music,” he said. “They don’t have all the support and all the resources that they need. So from local community television, I can support them on some level.”
Recently, Tico joined the Tualatin Valley Creates Arts and Culture Leadership Incubator as a faculty member. Part leadership development, part business incubator, the Arts & Culture Leadership Incubator aims to challenge, inspire, empower, and motivate. Led by a four-member faculty team, a central goal of the program is to empower bold arts and culture leaders from traditionally underrepresented populations in Washington County who will help build a thriving creative environment.
“Tualatin Valley Creates is a great nonprofit organization that has a lot of potential to develop the inclusion of art and culture in the community,” he said.
Alongside his work with local organizations, Tico is still hard at work composing original music. He is currently recording his song, “Guajira a mi abuelo Toñé,” with the collaboration of local musicians and friends. Next year, they will record video in Cuba of places he remembers fondly.
About the Author: Ashley Baker
After spending several years developing communication strategies and conducting research for sustainability non-profits in Washington, D.C. and Portland, OR, Ashley has turned her attention to multimedia storytelling and community engagement. She holds a B.Sc. in chemistry from Sweet Briar College and is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Oregon in Portland.