Even in casual conversation, Cimafunk can’t help but make music. On a Zoom call in Spanish from New Orleans, the Afro-Cuban artist constantly erupts into melodies and imitations, scattering and singing almost whenever he gets the chance. When he describes his live shows, he talks about his audience who want to dance: “You start to see them. ta-ta-ta! “he says as he starts to move. He looks back on his recent collaboration with rapper Lupe Fiasco, whom he praises for finding the groove in hip-hop” like a machine. He’s like, pikita-pikita-pa-pik! “He enthusiastically mimics the spontaneous ad-libs George Clinton threw in their new song,” Funk Aspirin “, nailing the quivering voice of the funk pioneer:” He pitched lines that were classic George, like , “What is booty and how will I know if I shake it?” ““
This sense of perpetual spectacle and this natural ability to hear music in everything is Cimafunk’s signature. The artist, whose real name is Erik Iglesias Rodriguez, grew up in Pinar del Rio, the epicenter of tobacco production in western Cuba. He started singing in church when he was little, playing a “strange trumpet” that someone had given him. As a teenager, he dabbled in reggaeton and the more traditional Cuban trova style, but found his rhythm after moving to Havana and immersing himself in the rich funk scene there. He performed in various groups before starting to perform under the name Cimafunk – a stage name taken from the word “cimarrones”, used to describe the Africans who escaped slavery in Cuba and created walls. palenque communities to protect each other. “It has always been the basis of Afro-Cuban culture for me: people who create, people who live, people who grow up together in community,” he says.
Cimafunk’s foray into music was a risk. He had left his third year of medicine to pursue a full artistic career, but it paid off. Its debut in 2017, Terapia, featured the hit “Me Voy,” which has become ubiquitous in Cuba and has led to tours that have helped him spread his gospel funk across the world. On his new album, El Alimento, he goes further: rather than simply presenting his brand of Afro-Cuban funk, he places it squarely in a conversation with American funk, rap and soul, establishing a link that has always existed between art forms. black in the United States and the United States. Caribbean. “He’s always been there,” Cimafunk says. “The music we dance to here is influenced by Afro-Cuban music, and the Afro-Cuban we listen to there is influenced by music here. It’s been mixed up before us, by so many people – from Marvin Gaye to Michael to James Brown to Prince, everyone has that mix, deep down, in the seams.
Cimafunk credits much of the album to its partnership with producer Jack Splash. When they paired up, they immediately started to send music to each other. Cimafunk shared tons of Afro-Cuban bands including Havana band Los Papines, which ended up on the LP. He was floored by everything Splash turned him into – old school hip-hop and tons of 1970s and 1980s grooves that “blew him away.” [his] disturbs. “” Do you know that song, ‘California knows how to party’? “he asks enthusiastically, singing the Ronnie Hudson line and the Street People song from 1982”Poplock from the West Coast. “I had only heard the Dr. Dre and Tupac version, but Jack sent me the original and I went crazy. I was like, ‘Wow! It’s so great !'”
The discussions resulted in an album loaded with radical energy, intended to draw listeners into the magnetic orbit of Cimafunk. Chucho Valdés and Lester Snell heighten the drama of the baroque ballad “Salvaje”, while Colombian group ChocQuibTown and Jamaican artist Stylo G join in a tangle of electro-funk and percussion on “La Noche”. But what kicks it off is the Clinton feature, “Funk Aspirin,” which Cimafunk speaks of in disbelief.
“It’s so hard to talk about George. In terms of music, he is like the most important person in mankind, ”he says. As high profile as Clinton is, Cimafunk says the two were completely relaxed with each other and chatted for hours about Clinton’s love for Afro-Cuban musicians like Chano Pozo. Cimafunk says it was like sitting down with a friend. “It was like in Havana, when we bought a bottle of bad rum, the worst rum, and we went to the Malecón and we talked about life, silly things, our dreams – other than that, we was drinking the coconut water. ”The shortcut the two had with each other played a part in the song’s comfortable, deep bounce.
Collaborations on El Alimento reflect a sense of community that touches everything Cimafunk does. His group is united, made up entirely of Cuban musicians, including drummer and musical director Raúl Zapata Surí, bassist Ibanez Hermida Marrero, pianist Arthur Luis Alvarez Torres, guitarist Diego Berrera, percussionist Mario Mesa and minor percussionist Miguel E. Piquero Villavicencio. Trombonist Ilarivis García Despaigne and saxophonist Katerine Ferrer Llerena form an all-female brass section while also providing backing vocals. “My group is made up of assassins,” Cimafunk raves as several members shoot in the background of the video call. He sees himself as part of a whole, naming everyone from his designer Haydée Fornaris to his personal assistant Sandra Galán, as an integral part of his art. After our call, he sends a list of 20 names, including photographers and members of the production, who have helped shape his music in one way or another.
This team has helped Cimafunk travel the world several times over the past few years, winning fans with their electric stage presence and becoming an ambassador of not only Cuban funk, but Cuban culture more broadly. (The nation suggested in 2019 that amid the Trump-era sanctions against Cuba, his music could build a “cultural bridge” that was “necessary, urgent and meaningful.” Cuba’s socio-political complexities are never far away: this summer, Cimafunk was in France when historic protests erupted across the island. He and his gang watched from afar, full of emotion. “It was unlike anything I had felt before, because it had never happened before,” he says. “It was a lot of emotions at the same time. We were crying, and it was crazy because we weren’t there, but it was like an internal explosion inside all of us. It was powerful.
Tours and travel haven’t slowed down. This month, Cimafunk returns to Europe after a few remaining shows in the United States But even if his career takes him in new directions, he constantly returns to his roots through music. “I wanna do hip-hop, I wanna rock, I wanna do weird hits,” he says. “And the main thing I’m going to continue to do is bring that Afro-Cuban essence to everything. I want everything to have this tika-tika-tahHe says, then stops to talk a little more about it, just in case words aren’t enough.