Cimafunk is not a novelty for a few lucky ones, but a potential audience still needs to meet the talented musician and vibe with his mighty timeless Funk with Cuban swing. Like a religion, once you’ve heard it, you need to share it and check if it has the same effect on others. You wonder how he isn’t more famous when even McCartney—the legendary ex-Beatle and his daughter, fashion designer Stella—have moved to his beat.
The stage name of the Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban Rockstar is a catchy portmanteau between the Spanish word ‘cimarrón’—that’s what the runaway slaves were called—and the essence of his musical blending of funk, soul, afrobeat, and hip hop. However, it seems to be used in a light and non-ideologized way. The word was intended for describing a “domestic animal”—that’s what enslaved Black people were considered—that escapes to the wild and becomes untamed. And this is precisely the most accurate description of Cimafunk’s sound. A rebellious sound that breaks old conventions and molds in a sort of liquid agreement. Following a natural flow.
The self-taught musician and producer, whose real name is Erick Alejandro Iglesias Rodríguez, was born in Pinar del Río, Cuba’s most western province, in 1989. Before shifting gears to pursue a career in music and moving to Havana, he spent two years studying medicine. To understand Cimafunk’s musical background, it’s important to note that he was from 2014 to 2016 a singer and composer of Interactivo, a disruptive music collective project led by Cuban pianist Roberto Carcasses in 2001 when he “and Yusa decided to invite other artists to take part in occasional concerts in which they combined their talents,” according to journalist Juan Manuel Montoto Pascual.
It is amidst that “freeform, experimental, and collaborative” musical laboratory, where mixing a cocktail of sound was the norm, that Iglesias found his path and left the collective to assemble his band La Tribu (The Tribe). His band is a manifold of talented young musicians like himself, with the following lineup: Raul Zapata Surí ‘Dr. Zapa’ in the drums, musical director; Mario Gabriel Mesa Meriño ‘Machete,’ percussion; Ibanez Hermida Marrero ‘Caramelo,’ bass; Diego Barrera Hernandez ‘Bejuko,’ guitar; Arthur Luis Álvarez Torres: keyboard, piano; Ilarivis Garcia Despaigne ‘Hilaria Cacao,’ vocals, trombone; Katerin Llerena: saxophone, vocals; Miguel Piquero Villavicencio ‘Miguelo,’ vocals, percussion; Juan Marcos Rodríguez Faedo ‘El Firu,’ keys.
While his self-released album Terapia (2017) put him somehow on the map, the SXSW platform presented him in his programming description in 2019 as “by far the most exciting new face” and “a UFO in the island’s music scene,” it still has the tone of recognition of an alien national talent, not the international sensation he will soon become.
His sophomore full-length album, El Alimento (2021), earned him some of the praise he deserves. Rolling Stone magazine and NPR named the album one of the best of the year. El Alimento was nominated for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards. The album features guest appearances by George Clinton, CeeLo Green, and Lupe Fiasco.
During the album promotional tour, he also had the chance to team up with the legendary trombone player and musical director of James Brown band Fred Wesley to perform “Salvaje,” a soul-infused “poetic-erotic blues” at Jazz à la Villette in Paris, on September 1, 2022.
Veteran music journalist Felix Contreras, co-creator and co-host of Alt.Latino, NPR’s radio show and podcast about Latin music and culture, who introduced him to American music lovers at SXSW in 2019 and one of the greatest promoters of Cimafunk in the United States, remembered Cimafunk presentation at SXSW as “the hottest ticket in town.” “When creating the band, at the beginning, it was difficult because I didn’t know music theory. I know the rhythms, and I create the song, mouth playing the rhythm,” Cimafunk confessed to Contreras when he interviewed him for his NPRS’s 9:30 Club 15 Anniversary show. “They always said, ‘Yeah, I understand, but I need you to write it,’” Cimafunk remembered. “I told them, ‘I don’t know how to write. Just play what you are hearing.’’ That’s when Cimafunk assembled the band, choosing young musicians and recent graduates.
“There is no escaping the infectious energy coming from the stage when Cimafunk is in the house. The Cuban vocalist and his band, La Tribu, kicked off our two-night celebration with their groovaliscious melding of Afro-Cuban music and funk. Whether the music reminds you of P-Funk or iconic Cuban vocalist Benny Moré, the call to dance is unshakable,” wrote Conteras, presenting the band concert on December 6, 2022.
Whether you like it or not, it’s hard to remain indifferent to so much talent. “Call the police! These guys stole the Latin funk. What a groove and energy!” You can read a user comment under the YouTube video of one of Cimafunk and the Tribe’s electrifying performances. And I think that’s accurate… and beautiful!
From September 28 to October 1, Cimafunk will perform at Blue Note Jazz Club in New York; on September 28, with the legendary Cuban pianist and Irakere band leader Chucho Valdés, and on October 1, with American rapper Big Freedia and Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez.
To close the year, the band will present CimaFest Miami 2023 at Oasis Wynwood, Miami, on December 2. For more details, visit their website cimafunk.com.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition