Magazine AM:PM
Chronicle Cimafunk singing at Cimafest 2023 Cimafunk. Photo: Alain Rabufetti

Cimafest Miami 2023: a festival to bring them all together

At noon on Saturday, December 2, the members of Cimafunk + La Tribu perform the sound check while, all around them, the stage technicians diligently arrange cables, lights and other miscellaneous junk. At night this mess will make more sense, right now it's just a bunch of chaotic pieces moving around in no apparent order. We are in Oasis, a plaza in the gentrified lung of Wynwood, Miami's art district. On the streets you can read graffiti with concert announcements and fragments of songs by the urban artists of the moment. Around the area everything revolves around the upcoming edition of Art Basel, the renowned contemporary art fair that has in the city one of its strongholds; but today here the protagonist will be music.

A music festival is, first and foremost, a jumble of cables, boxes and metal structures. And before that, a crazy idea in the head of a group of restless people. After the Cimafest edition in New Orleans last April, the team wanted to bring the experience of that extended party here. "Miami is a city with a lot of Cubans and Cuban culture," says Collin Laverty, festival organizer. "We wanted to connect with that Cubanness, and also with other Latinos, Caribbean and the broader South Florida community." With such premises, Miami is the perfect city to broaden the spectrum of the event but, as Laverty notes, "the challenge is always in the curation, and in sending the right messages to set the right expectations and attract the right energy."

That is why they embarked on the search for names that could give meaning to this call that sought to bring together two audiences: the Cuban community but also the broader community of the city, made up of an amalgam of nations and musical preferences. Latin, in spite of what the charts by Billboard and company, it's not a uniform universe. 

It is then a little more understandable the selection of the line-up, which included, besides Cimafunk + La Tribu, Elena Rose, Wampi, part of the second line from the Trombone Shorty Academy, and DJs Michael Brun and Walshy Fire. "We also wanted it to be a celebration among friends with artists we love and respect, so we included [those] we have strong friendships with and like to collaborate with"-adds Collin. "We believe Wampi is on his way to becoming an international star and we wanted Cimafest Miami to serve as a launching pad for him."

The result was a line-up vibrant, able to stand out in the chaotic and saturated space of a city like Miami.

Brenda Navarrete and Cimafunk. Photo: Alain Rabufetti

At nightfall there is a more than notable affluence at the Wynwood Oasis. Several hundred people are waiting for the concert to begin in the areas near the stage. The atmosphere is essentially seasoned by Cuban music, courtesy of Macheteonthebeat (the alter ego of La Tribu's percussionist), with songs by Kimiko y Yordi, Orishas, Gente de Zona and Pedrito Martinez. As the time comes, people stroll around the place, take the usual photo in front of the promotional tarp and consider buying (or not) the merch available (a mesh cap with the slogan "Funky pa tu cuerpa", a promotional Cimafest pullover, the vinyl of The foodthe band's most recent Grammy-nominated album (2023).

At 9:00 p.m., the unmistakable strains of the second lineThe Trombone Shorty Academy, the non-profit school project promoted by prominent jazzman Troy Andrews through the Trombone Shorty Foundation. It is impossible to stand still at the pace of this sort of conga with Louisiana brass, the beat The crowd was getting into your body and you immediately wanted to join in the party. By then the hundreds had multiplied considerably, and a small tide filled the square. 

The table was set for Wampi. Accompanied by his base band and some of the musicians from La Tribu, he launched into what was probably the most challenging concert of his career. The audience, although mostly Cuban, was not there mainly for him and, to make it more difficult, he was backed by a band of seasoned musicians who could well see him as an upstart (although he knew beforehand that he was not, in rehearsals they were happy to chant his songs, and Raul Zapata, musical director of the group and who worked with the young singer on the arrangements and the assembly of the songs, seemed very happy not to have to play and to be able to give himself completely to the enjoyment of the presentation as a groupie more).

It only took Wampi a little more than half an hour to win the hearts of the crowd, who had the rare opportunity to see him sing almost without using playback (the evil of Cuban urban music), and perform completely reinvented versions of songs omnipresent in the soundtrack of recent Cuban years. For us, Maleante, Climax, Toxic, Washypupa They grew so much, enriched by the sound of the orchestra, and were a demonstration of how far the cast can go when it crosses the boundaries of musical genre labels. Forty-eight hours later, I was still humming in my head the brass chorus that accompanied the "tú tienes que pagar pa' verla" from Washypupaa timbero passage that was one of the best surprises of the night. Wampi stepped out of his comfort zone, and the result was beautiful and stimulating. Anyone who wants to talk about monotony and musical poverty in the cast should listen to what happened there.

Elena Rose at Cimafest. Photo: María Juliah

The prodigy of the cast was followed by Michael Brun, the DJ who mixes the rhythms of electronica with those of his native Haiti. He, as Walshy Fire would later do, provided the most Caribbean sound of the night; both gave that ecumenical touch that the event organizers were looking for (although I confess I didn't particularly connect with either one of them sets).

After 10 o'clock Elena Rose, whom I knew for some time, took the stage. hits as The Shower, Caracas in 2000 (with Danny Ocean) and Bayamón. Born in Miami to a Chilean father and Venezuelan mother, and raised between Puerto Rico and Venezuela, Elena exemplifies the spirit of the city like few others. Her show is well rounded and served as a perfect mesh between Wampi and Cimafunk. Her songs, with a very particular flavor, have earned her a very loyal fan base, as they proved by attending the concert. 

Near the end of Elena Rose's presentation I took the opportunity to walk around the place. If at the beginning it was difficult to identify many faces beyond the guild, at 11 pm I could not stop greeting people. It was a sea of friends, acquaintances, the human landscape that traces the physiognomy of a frequented place. 

Photo: Alain Rabufetti

Shortly before midnight, after the presentation of Walshy Fire, the second line returned to the charge and I returned near the stage. As La Tribu and New Orleans brass exchanged in a fluid dialogue, I thought about the level of rapport these Cubans have achieved in the southern city. Beyond the cultural connections and chemistry between the two groups, if you listen closely you can tell that there is a part of La Tribu's heart that already beats in the key of New Orleans.

Having been one of the first animators of the Cimafunk project, several years have passed since the last time I saw him live. In that period, he and his band have earned praise of all kinds on the event circuit and from the specialized press, and I often get messages from friends and colleagues from all over the world who have surrendered to the power of his live performance. Seeing him on stage tonight reminds me of old conversations. I don't think I know a musician with a clearer vision, he knew from the beginning what he wanted and he has done everything he could to get there.

Cimafunk + La Tribu are in a league of their own. They understood like no one else the importance of the live performance and have made it their strong card. It is, by any standards, the most exciting show I find in Cuban music today. Cimafunk commands a band that has built itself, song after song, rehearsal after rehearsal, concert after concert. The careful metamorphosis that the lineup has undergone (currently: Cimafunk, lead vocals and musical director; Dr. Zapa, drums and musical direction; Bejuco, guitar; Machete, percussion; Arthurito the Wao, piano; Katy Cacao, backing vocals and saxophone; Ilarivis García Despaigne Hilaria CocoaBig Happy, backing vocals and trombone; Big Happy, backing vocals and minor percussion; and that night, at least, Rafael Aldama, bass) has made it possible for the audience to make the transition with them to what they are today, a funk band with Cuban roots, but sounding like no other Cuban band has ever sounded. 

From Candythe theme with which they opened their presentation, to I'm goingwhich closed after one o'clock in the morning, including Alabao (where the presence of Brenda Navarrete made it possible to re-edit the song with its original sound), they gave a lesson on how to win over a crowd thirsty for fun, without giving up on the music. It's not virtuosity, it's skill and joy in spurts (and good choruses, Cimafunk would remind me). At a time when the hamster wheel of the streaming and social networks do not stop spinning, Cimafunk has only needed two albums in five years to settle permanently in our heads. Unfortunately El Taiger, whose presence had been announced and confirmed by himself, never arrived, and we missed out on what could have been a historic release of Speak killer

Wampi at Cimafest. Photo: Alain Rabufetti

As is customary at the end of their concerts, while the band stretched out the motif of I'm goingCimafunk began to put people on stage. I remember how many times I saw dancers and enthusiastic friends climbing on the Brecht, in F.A.C. and on every stage they set up. I still don't know exactly what happened, if it was the interpellation of Cimafunk, the euphoria of seeing them live after I don't know how long, or the certainty that I was in a piece of Cuba. The only thing I can confirm is that in an unexpected turn of the night I ended up on stage dancing. Me, who stands in the corner of the disco. Me, who doesn't even join in with the party braids. How it was that I danced nonchalantly on stage in front of thousands of people is a mystery that will stay with me for a long time.

I guess it had something to do with the reunion with the pieces of Cuba that are settling in this overseas territory. Somehow, as a friend told me, "it was like being in La Tropical". And although Cimafunk has triumphed halfway around the world, Miami is the closest thing he has been to Cuba since he left, and for many of the emigrants of recent years, his music is part of their personal soundtrack; listening to him and watching him is a way of being at home. Not necessarily as a nostalgic act, but there is something of nostalgia and reunion. 

According to its organizers, the Miami edition of Cimafest was both a commercial and artistic success. They believe that the growth of the artists who attended will serve as a letter of introduction for an event that apparently is here to stay. The second edition of Cimafest NOLA has already been announced for April next year, within the framework of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, with Chucho Valdés as special guest. When I asked him if they have not thought about a Cimafest Havana, Collin Laverty told me that they would love it and plan to do something soon. Like so many people, I hope that, sooner rather than later, the miracle will happen.

Photo: Alain Rabufetti


Photo: Alain Rabufetti


Photo: Alain Rabufetti


Photo: Alain Rabufetti


Photo: Alain Rabufetti


Photo: María Juliah


Photo: Alain Rabufetti

Avatar photo Rafa G. Escalona Father of a music magazine. Professional procrastinator. His goal is to be a DJ for a station at dawn. Prince of random. More posts

Leave a comment

View published comments
  1. Maysu Gonzalez says:

    I had the opurtunida, to participate in the show for me was wonderful, I had a great time, thank you.

  2. Maria Coba says:

    I was present at Cimafest and I had the spectacular opportunity to be in the front was incredible from beginning to end...What to say about Cimafunk and La Tribu that they have to come back, Miami is waiting for them with open arms. It's a world of fun for them...🫶🏻

View published comments

We also suggest