Cimafunk’s Quest to Build a Nación Down a Drain
A few months earlier in a Tallahassee, Fla., recording studio, Cuban singer and musician Cimafunk was engaged in a climactic meeting of mind with parliament-funkadelic leader George Clinton, when they discussed a fascinating relationship between African American and Afro-Americans. Had stumbled. Cuban Music.
Simafunk, born Eric Iglesias Rodriguez, was splattering the 1950s “Los Marcianos” smash, which immediately pleased Clinton, who loved the song’s melody so much that he wrote the song for Funkadelic’s 1978 classic called “Grooveliegians”. Recorded an anthemic cover. a nation down a drain” But Clinton, who had created an Afrofuturist cottage industry with her band’s elaborate costumes and stage props, had no idea that the song was about the Martians descending to dance Cha Cha Cha in Havana.
“I was saying, bro, you wrote that song talking about mothership and that whole relationship and you didn’t know that?” Cimafunk, 32, remembered in a video interview last week, standing in front of a South Florida building surrounded by palm trees and lush grass. “All those guys like Perez Prado, Chano Pozo, that madness made an impression,” he said, referring to Cuban musical innovators. “It permeates not only into instruments, but also into vocal rhythms.”
Afro-Cuban rhythms date back to the late 19th century in New Orleans with African American ones—distant siblings that intersect at key moments, such as the gesticulations of jazz, the Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie era of Birdland Bebop. , and Ray Barreto’s band’s stellar performance in Questlove’s recent documentary “Summer of Soul.” But for Cimafunk, whose new album “El Elemento,” out Friday, filled with star-studded collaborations with Clinton, Lupe Fiasco, cello Green and pianist Chucho Valdés, now’s the time for fresh Cuban funk.
“What Eric has done is unify the two trends – Afro-Cuban and African American,” Valdés, founder of the influential 1970s jazz/funk group Iracare, said in an interview. “They’ve changed it to a new school that I haven’t heard of until now.”
“El Elemento” is a frenzied joy ride of freewheeling bursts of percussive funk intercut with pumped-up versions of classic Cuban riffs, and even the famous quote from Michael Jackson’s Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makosa”. There is also a hint. Still Cimafunk explores his creative abilities and impressive vocal range on the blues ballad “Salvaje” and the Spanish-guitar-tinged “No Me Alcanzas”, featuring classic Cuban percussionist Los Papíns. While he wants his voice to carry the full lineage of Cuban music, he reminds me of Benny Morey, who was also a self-taught singer who was inspired by highly trained musicians to sustain himself.
“What Borderlands is doing is like brand new funk,” Clinton said in a phone interview. “Tito Puente and stuff like that, Tito Rodriguez, that was all my favorite music in New York. Mambo and Cha-Cha were just like disco in the ’70s.
Dressed in an African-inspired print shirt, and through a pair of oversize sunglasses, Cimafunk flashed awe-inspiring wonder, as if he were both surprised and relatable to the moment. Explaining details about the writing and composition, he breaks into song, and the birds in the surrounding trees join him, seemingly inspired.
Born and raised in Pinar del Río, a town west of Havana, Simafunk grew up listening to giants such as Morey, Bola de Nieve and Los Van Van and its charismatic singer Mayito Rivera. But he also encountered musicals beyond the island, especially on TV shows such as “De la Gran Essena”, where he featured Tom Jones, Phil Collins and Sting. On one of the new album’s signature tracks, “Esto es Cuba,” he describes the growing residents of Guantanamo who were able to watch live broadcasts of “Soul Train.” Because of the antenna of a nearby US naval base.
Cimafunk’s conservative family inspired him to study medicine, but supported him when he decided to move to Havana and pursue his musical ambitions. “At first I got into reggaeton because of the girls, and the fact that anyone with a sound card and microphone can do it,” he said. “Then I discovered Trova,” referring to an older genre centered on ballads. “Where I started writing my songs with more structure – very strange lyrics that no one understood – the stranger songs you wrote, the more catchy you were.”
Cimafunk’s debut album, “Terapia”, came out in 2017, stocked with neo-trova exoticism such as “Parar El Tiempo” and “Me Voy”, which draw from Nigerian Afropop and pylons, an Afro-Cuban carnival rhythm. Inspire is a dance-worthy live favorite. “Terapia” contained the seeds of the new album, and a mellow, ’70s soul groove. “El Elemento” (“The Nurture”) has completely transformed him into an international funk champion.
“I called it ‘El Elemento’ because making the album nourished me spiritually during the whole process of the pandemic,” Cimafunk said. He stated that he wanted the album to be a kind of descaraga, a term that in Cuba means both a musical jam and a release of accumulated emotional baggage.
“It’s about the connection between soul and body and the importance of release and loving yourself,” he explained.
The album’s producer, Jack Splash (Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamar, Solange), has led his own indie funk band Plant Life, and moved back and forth between Los Angeles and Miami, making them Afro-Cuban/African American. But got a unique perspective. Overlap.
“It’s two different sensations—even if you’re listening to the same funk, your swing might be a little different,” he said in a video interview. He said that Shakira once asked him to add more harmonies to his standard beatbox rhythm track; On the new song “Estoy Pa’ Esso”, Splash and Simafunk reworked “Shakira Beatbox” to put a new spin on a sample from American funk band Zap, with mind-boggling results.
While some of Cimafunk’s strongest supporters, like Splash, believe in her sense of style—tight dresses, Bootsy Collins-esque sunglasses—Fella evokes Kuti, the Nigerian Afrobeat king has beyond comparison appearance: Rodriguez a Africanist who often starts concerts with a. A cappella rendition of a poem entitled “Faustino Congo”, which Simafunk said, is inspired by Miguel Barnett’s “Biography of a Runaway Slave”.” The “cima” part of Cimafunk is a reference to the cimarrones, runaway slaves whose defiance is similar to that of the Jamaican Maroons, an inspiration for Bob Marley’s Rastafarian beliefs.
“At first I was clueless – my family was black and educated and I thought they had to work twice as hard,” Cimafunk said. “African culture arrived in Cuba and changed everything! It’s flow, visibility, concept, everything, and it was a relief when I began to connect to that identity because I had reached a place of truth.”
Splash noted that the funk was more of a sonic touchstone. “People were scared when James Brown said ‘I’m black and I’m proud,'” he said. “They thought, ‘Does that mean James Brown doesn’t like white people?’ No, he doesn’t mean ‘Let’s lift my people up.'” He found a similar moment in the new album’s party anthem “La Noche,” featuring dancehall rapper Stylo G and Colombian Afro-funk band Chocquibtown, whose The lead singer shouts at the Goyo song. The ending, “Afro-Latin Power!”
While he demonstrates the power of blending African American and Afro-Cuban music, Cimafunk also engages in a cultural mix that celebrates a kind of Latin American hybridity, on his own terms. He sees himself as part of a new generation that is destined to bring about change.
“Now that we have the Internet, you can know what’s going on in the world, and have a million different opinions, and pick the one you want,” Cimafunk said. “We started analog,” he said, “now we’re in a pot that’s boiling.”
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