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Interviews Cimafunk. Photo: Melissa Ripepi. Cimafunk. Photo: Melissa Ripepi.

Cimafunk, cooking the food called success

In 2018, Cimafunk made a forceful appearance on the Cuban music scene. Their sonority, style and stage presence -their flowas he would say-, captured the attention of all kinds of audiences. The theme I'm going became a hymn and, perhaps, the most important world hit the most recent of our music. In the middle of 2023, Cimafunk has ceased to be a backyard artist, to become an international phenomenon, with a nomination for a Grammy for his album The foodin the category of Best Latin Alternative Rock Album. His meteoric career never ceases to amaze and make us proud. Their presence in international stages of the highest level legitimizes contemporary Cuban music. 

Four years after a first interview that I made for him for this same magazineI once again have the opportunity to talk with him. This time, the conversation is with a more mature and experienced artist, more aware of his work, of the road he has traveled and of what still lies ahead. Trying to see him in perspective made me reiterate some questions from that initial dialogue. The artistic evolution of Cimafunk, and the personal growth of Erik Iglesias led us, at times, down other paths, generating new questions. 

What does it mean -today- Cimafunk?

Cima comes from cimarron. The African ancestry took me and connected me very strongly with the folk of what I am doing. There comes a time when you are that and I chose to assume that identity beyond the stage name. Cimafunk speaks of me, of my things, of what I want to happen to me. That translated into music, in the show, in my projection in life. It means to unload to what is there.

Is it your attitude towards life?

Yes, it's the way I face life, which has been evolving. First it was the need to search (the Cima walking the streets, trying to find the way and the "personal film"). Now I am still in that search, but already a little more aware that the day is the day and the night is the night, that all that together is 24 hours and it is time of life. So, I have to enjoy it, I have to unload it, keeping myself creative and innovative, but always hesitating. If there is health and everything is good - my band, my community, my team - then everything is fine. This is what Cimafunk means as a project and as a person. 

You always talk about Maroon culture and Black culture as a starting point, does everything that has to do with "Black culture" or just "Maroon" call to you?

It's hard to give you a concrete answer, because for me it's the same thing. Everything that came black to America, no matter where it came from, became the same. With different languages and cultural manifestations, different concepts, but in essence we all came as slaves. We came here on equal terms. We were the only race that came forced, because the rest of the people came looking for fortune, work, opportunities. 

For me the concept of blackness is connecting with history and with the factors that made it possible for you to be here today, doing what you are doing. Being black implies many sizes. Of course, having come from slaves put us in a disadvantaged position, you are below. That's why, after the liberation of the slaves, we had to go to marginal areas to survive. You in Africa were quiet in your village, doing your own thing. Now they take you away from that and bring you here to cut cane, to survive as best you can. Your options are always inferior, you are an outcast. Little by little, you try to expand and get by. This is passed down from generation to generation, but it is not something that happens from one day to the next. The moment you have to live is the opportunity you have to say "this is right, this is wrong", and to be very clear about how to achieve things. My parents' generation is not the same as mine or my children's generation. But in the end it is the awareness of being, of being, of understanding what you are, where you are going and where you come from. 

Cimafunk. Photo: Michael Weintrob.

Cimafunk. Photo: Michael Weintrob.

Is blackness a flag for you?

No, it is not a flag, it is a reality. It is not an external or foreign thing. I am black, that is a reality that I have lived with since I was a child. There is a point when you are a child, when you do not understand or accept that reality because at that age you have no real conscience, and you form an opinion of what it means to be black based on how others understand it. In other words, your interpretation of "being black" is constructed from external opinions. So, it is complicated. For example, when you belong to the only black family that exists in a place, you understand that as something inferior, or that it is wrong, that it limits you. That's what gets into your subconscious. Then, when you face the real world, you realize that, indeed, in some places you will have less possibilities. But when you grow up, draw your own conclusions and get informed, you start trying to identify yourself. That's when you face the reality of who you are, with your history and the value of everything we brought to this continent: flavor, music, flowfood. So it's not a flag, it's just me offloading to that. 

To what extent does that reality of being black and belonging to that race intervene in your music, or determine your art?

I am not one race and I am not another, I am me. Whether the world, depending on how I look, has said "you're black" is another thing. That's where you have to interpret that in a way that doesn't affect you, because normally that affects a lot of people. At the time it affected me too. It's a process that you deal with and you get over it better with time.

When we talk about affectation, we do not necessarily have to see it as something negative.

It's positive, if you manage to find your way in the end. But, for example, during childhood that can be quite an issue. fulaBecause it is real that you are going to be segregated by the same friends at school, by the people in the neighborhood, by friends, because culturally everything is super conditioned to be that way, not only in Cuba, but in many parts of the world. All that influences my art, especially the way I live it. And the way I understood it and the way my body wanted to explain it is the way I make my art. That's why, if you listen to my songs, I'm talking to you from a personal perspective. I don't like to talk about anything else. I talk about me, because in the end that is the only faithful experience I have. What I live or lived is the only thing I can talk about with total certainty. So, when I say it, I do it my way, as I feel it. With a size real, tocáI was proud of it, because it's good, because that's what provokes me. There came a time when I realized that I like myself. When I was a kid I was not aware of that, but luckily now I am. At a certain moment I realized that I like myself, I feel rich, I unload myself, and that's when you start to enjoy yourself. 

What elements do you think differentiate your music from others currently being heard in Cuba?

The difference is that it's me. Everyone here is doing their own thing in a different way, even if it's the same genre. My music is being made by me. I say through it how I feel, who I am, what I like. And, at the same time, I like experimenting with rhythms. I like to get into some place that is a little bit different from what is happening a hundred percent. From the beginning I've liked that, trying other things that can go well or badly, but it doesn't matter. If I like it, for me it's in size

What you say about rhythms and that you like to experiment, can be noticed in your music from the first listen. However, if you were to ask me, as a listener, what are the rhythms or genres that I can identify as constants in your music, I will surely tell you that there is obviously a lot of Cuban music, funk, maybe more African issues, that will be let's say the base on which you work. In other words, the experimentation you are talking about is from a base?

I will always work with Cuban rhythms, I can't get rid of that. I feel that's the real advantage, because that's what I know the most about. If you were born here, listening to Cuban music, dancing to Cuban music, your parents, your friends, your grandparents, that's inside you. All that information is transmitted even genetically, all that vibration, that energy, the sound. The music carries a pile of sizes that surround you when you are born, you have it built in. When I started making music, I would sit down and say, "What am I going to do? I would spend hours searching, but in the end I would always throw myself into pa' there. In my first productions (Terapia, Get down to business), I wasn't aware of what was pulling me pa' there. The intention was never to do it that way, the intention was to let myself go, and that's what came out. Later, when you start studying and mastering the programs to produce music, you try to do other genres and you start to break down a little bit the flows and the tricks of each style. And that's where you realize what you did, everything you incorporated into it. I've taken my own songs and I've broken them into a pile of little pieces, and I've discovered a lot of things. The first thing is that for me they are rich, I love them. Then you realize that it is a size super Cuban. You hear the son, the chachachá, to that. 

There will always be things of Cuban music in there. For example, I am a fan of the pilón, the changüí. Sometimes that is not specifically in an instrument or in some fragment, but in the air, in the cadence of the song, you can feel it. It takes you pa' there. The other always comes by inventing, searching around. pa' There to see what comes out, what you find. 

Making a superficial analysis of your two discographic productions -Terapia (independent, 2017) and The food (Terapia Productions, 2021)-, we realize that, although there are the same basic influences, at a generic, rhythmic and sound concept level, there are notorious differences.

The food is a complicated story, because it was born in the pandemic. It was the moment when I was going to start a tour with all the madness that implies, and suddenly everything stopped. And now, I had no choice but to get back in the house to produce and create music. Producing was not something I had planned. It was half flux, because I wasn't really pa' that. Luckily, the producer was Jack Splash, who is a super tough monster and good people. We had super chemistry. lethal. I started to learn, and all the time of pandemic I spent learning how to produce, I fed on all that. That's why The foodbecause it literally fed me. I learned a lot of things about the billing, the texture, the quality of the sound, how to recognize the point where the song says "yeah, this is what I need". 

Cimafunk with Chucho Valdés. Photo: Sama Dizayee.

Cimafunk with Chucho Valdés. Photo: Sama Dizayee.

I was adapted to search endlessly, and put information to the topics. I always had the need to complete. But sometimes things are complete from the beginning, and sometimes when I put a lot of things, the songs became very complicated, tangled. I didn't achieve anything either, I didn't feel satisfied. The process with The food was to give the song the magic it carries. When Chucho [Valdés] sat down and recorded the piano, I told him: "Maestro, do what you want", and he said to me: "brother, what this has is a simplicity in the accompaniment". The guy recorded the whole song and then did a perfect, exact solo. And I thought, if this guy had been another pianist with a different kind of flowI would have imagined something more overloaded, to show off more. And when I saw that he made such a humble choice, I said: "wisdom is a mother's thing". The song tells you what she needs, you just have to know how to listen to her. You don't have to prove or demonstrate anything. You don't have to go crazy and play two hundred notes. If the song is asking for something simple, give it that and stay there forever until it asks for something else. But for that kind of thing to be done by someone like him [Chucho], who is a monster, is amazing. It gives you the measure that those who know, know. It's like Robe [Roberto Carcassés], who all of a sudden does something super complicated and great, and then he goes and does something simple, calm, like in the song I live for you. He gives you an arrangement that respects the essence of the song, he plays what goes. You realize that the guy knows how to listen to what the song wants. 

The food has that. I tried to be aware of those things all the time. Sometimes you get desperate trying to prove things, and then you overload the songs. You just have to listen to yourself and flow. The hardest thing is the easiest thing. 

Do you define your work as a musical product, as an artistic product, or do you not see yourself as a product?

Yes, yes, this is a product, an artistic product. If you are a person, everything you do in life is art. You walk and dance with your flowyou have your own, original expression. That is art. I try to transmit what I am in music, on stage. There are people who do it in other ways: dancing, welding, cooking... I don't think it's a musical product as such. For me that doesn't exist. If you listen to an album right now, you're not just going to hear the music. There are a lot of things going on, messages that they are trying to transmit, that go beyond a sound in time. It's a personal expression. 

Deconstructing all the elements of this artistic product that is Cimafunk (visual aesthetics, sound identity, timbre, a performance determined), which one do you think will most appeal to the public?

I don't know, asere. I believe that people are connected to my click for different reasons. I have never been able to delimit something specific that works as a hook. I think that maybe what they like the most is that they feel the truth, because what I say in my songs is real. I live like that. It's not like I say "I have a pile of chachas at the disco". That's a lie, that's not my reality. So, I don't sing that. I always try to tell things that are real, because in the end people almost always live and go through the same thing. We all have points in common. When you put your human side on the table, people connect and say "hell, this kid understands me, he's going through the same thing I'm going through". And that's when people sing the songs. It's like when Ricardo Arjona sings Tell me not toThat has happened to everyone, and that's when people make the connection. That kind of hook is very much a part of the urban genre, especially the Cuban genre. That's why it fits me to what is happening with the cast, because it is sincere and because the rhythms are Cuban. It is Cuban music from the vision of the chamas. Already the texts and the messages... each one with its own message. But as such, the phenomenon responds to the most contemporary Cuban music, and that is perfect. 

Now that you tell me about the cast and the new musical visions, I wonder if your sound references are still the same as they were four years ago.

No, no. One always incorporates new music, although some time ago I went back to listening to the same things. I reconnected with Benny, with Rolando Laserie. That is in stages. Revisiting them is very interesting, because suddenly you find new things. Right now I'm very connected with Arsenio Rodríguez, with Los Papines. Juana Bacallao drives me crazy. I think it's incredible how she was ahead of her time. Celeste Mendoza too, it's been a journey, the Irakere phenomenon is blowing my mind. I went back to the old Charanga Habanera records. James Brown, of course; Marvin Gaye. I'm listening to a lot of new Cuban music. There are a lot of guys who are over the top, making music that fits me. I don't know everybody's name, but for example El Wampy, to These people are making melodies that I like; the rhythms they are using also work for me. I am also checking a lot of new Cuban producers. It's important for me to know where Cuban productions are moving. All these producers like DJ Jigüe and [the label] Guámpara, for example, did something different, without planning it, just producing. Between all of them they have given a new sense to the music and they are refining it more and more. 

You listen to the cast songs, for example, and you realize that they have been evolving. That was one thing when El Choco, then they put in a lot of transformations, and now it is super clean. You listen to the music now and everything is clear, with some lied, with some things, the use of the bass drum, the clave, everything... The same clave is becoming more and more advanced. It's deadly. It's as if the Chamas have realized that this is their thing, they know how to do it perfectly. Nobody can do it like them. 

Cimafunk. Photo: Sama Dizayee.

Cimafunk. Photo: Sama Dizayee.

Do you think then that in the eyes of the international music industry, having elements that are evidently characteristic of Cuban music as the key is a seal of identity and a guarantee of commercial success?

I try not to look at it from that size I think this is a brand that says where you are from, where you belong. I think this is a mark that says where you are from, where you belong. When I do it, I am calm, because I do it as I feel it. For example, in the Cun cun prá the key is throughbecause I don't know music. I do the clave in my own way. Suddenly it came to me one way and that's how it stayed. That's how it was danced and continues to be danced. Someone who knows told me that this clave was throughalthough I honestly don't understand why. But I feel that way, and if I feel that way I can't say it any other way. I didn't think it was a commercial guarantee, a hook, although I do know that it works. In the end most of the dance music in the continent is influenced by Cuban music. Look at what Machito and the Afro Cubans did when they came to New York. They spread everywhere. Then Perez Prado, Arsenio, el Benny. All those people colonized the rhythm because there was so much going on here in the music. That was stuck there. Now it's still stuck, but it's spread in different little pieces. It spread.

So what will always be a guarantee is to do what you really understand, what you have inside. If you are a Cuban musician and you bring the clave, do it. It will turn out well because it is your thing, and people will enjoy it because it is true. 

If you were to describe to someone what your music is like, what would you tell them?

My music is unload yourself, love yourself, pamper yourself, empty yourself. Unload to every bit of your body, to every sensation you have. Unload to that. And if my music accompanies you then it is lethal. That's what happens when you go to live shows, you see that people are enjoying it no matter what age they are, no matter where they are from, no matter what culture they belong to. People who may think differently and have different concepts of life, but they enjoy your music. There comes a point where the music generates a tribal state, where you forget all that. You forget what you have consumed from society, what you have apprehended. You just start moving. Your body starts to become to crazy, and your mind starts to wander. For a moment you're in a crowd of people where everyone is happy, enjoying themselves, unloading. Then you come back to reality, but you do it with a little less of this, and a little more of that. My music is that process. Especially live. That you enjoy yourself as a person and as a human being, that you love yourself regardless of everything you've been told. When I understood that, it was like finding happiness. 

There is no denying the success, popularity or rise you have had as an artist in recent times, especially in the international arena. Why do you think this is?

That's what I was talking about. I don't think there is a reason beyond that, because in the end music is music. There are many good songs. But the success is that people go and enjoy it. That they feel that what I am telling them gives them joy and well-being. Then they keep listening to it and having nice moments. I think that's why, because I unload myself and I love myself, and that's what I try to say in my music, and so does my whole team. We are all in the same process. At the end of the day we're playing, it's fun. It feels great to get on a stage and wear a saya, which at the same time is a style, it is a flow. You create an identity, an aesthetic. In music too. There are songs in which I have recorded with scissors, for example, because it was funny to do it; and then you realized that it worked, and you left it. That kind of party, of celebration, of freedom when it comes to creating is a good thing. For It is a gift for me to be born and to have been told "here, this is your thing". To have arrived there is a good fortune and we have to celebrate it. That's what people feel. 

Cimafunk and his musicians from La Tribu. Photo: Damián Díaz.

Cimafunk and his musicians from La Tribu. Photo: Damián Díaz.

If you were given a choice of musicians from any era, style, place, to put together your band, who would they be?

The ones I have. I would choose again the ones I have (Mister Candy, bass; Ilaria Cacao, trombone; Katy Cacao, sax; Dr. Zapa, drumsMachete, percussion; El Wao, piano; Bejuco, guitar; Big Happy, minor percussion). That's my band, that's my family. We already spend more time together than with our families, so imagine that. We have an undeniable connection. There are many Cuban musicians of whom I am a fan. Andy Garcia for example, Raul Gonzalez on guitar, who is out of control. Charly González, who recorded in Food; Olivia Soler, who plays the tres, which is a very big thing, with a very specific genius. pa' that. Alejandro Delgado, who is my consort and a tremendous trumpet player; Julito Padrón; Nan Sam; Clo on guitar; Joao, who is on size; Kamankola with his mechanics. Roberto Carcassés, who you know is the teacher. The usual greats. But there are a lot of kids. 

It's just that it's crazy here. All the musicians are good. To the world has its flow. These I mention are the ones with whom I have had close contact, with whom I have recorded and know their DJs. But here all the musicians are good, they all have something to say. That's why when we get to where we are, people stop to listen. This is a musical country. Everybody plays, sings, dances. Anyone can play in my band and I can play with anyone's band too. I was with David Torrens, with Interactivo, which was the school. I did reggaeton. You go through a thousand genres, it's the best way to learn. 

If we were to give Cimafunk a synonym, what would it be?

Erik. 

Leannelis Cárdenas Díaz Always singing and smiling. There is no better way to face life! Musician and musicologist seven days a week. Cuban from head to toe, inside and out. Keywords: music, family, light, friends, wind, free, sunflower, smile, honey, Cuba. More posts

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