Magazine AM:PM
Interviews Cimafunk. Photo: Larisa Lopez. Cimafunk. Photo: Larisa Lopez.

Cimafunk, with funky flavor to top the mess

The arrival of Cimafunk to the Cuban musical universe comes to strengthen a configured philosophy —ex profeso— around funk; although there were and are Cuban bands and authors who have included this genre to a greater or lesser extent in their creations such as Garage H, Elévense, the Ogguere duo, Éxodo, Habana Abierta, X Alfonso, Interactivo, Qva Libre, Nube Roja, Tracks, among others. His great merit has been knowing how to organically recombine all this production of meaning —in the form of cultural consumption, a mixture of Cuban and American popular music— and take it to a higher level. His music, as a jazz friend confessed to me, “convinces you that you have to destroy your past and create a completely new world”. And that is only reserved for a lineage of artists who honestly do whatever they want, and always deliver what they promise. 

With this second record release, Cimafunk has once again come out through the wide door. The food (Terapia Productions, 2021) is not only a phonogram containing 13 tracks, an amazing musical production and some luxury guests; it is also a platform seasoned with poetics and images. With regard to the imminent release of the album, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about this work and the route to come.

The word "funk" currently has several meanings. For some experts it comes from the term "lu-fuki", which in Africa would be equivalent to bad body odor or sexual energy. For others, it has a historical dimension related to elements of cultural liberation, a kind of “black rock”. Even the adjective "funky" is used to connote changes in the musical structure that make the final result more syncopated and, therefore, more danceable. What does funk mean to you? 

For me funk is something very rhythmic, it's about time, about expressing sensations, feelings, ideas and messages playing in time, playing in and with it. beat. I don't know about music, or how I could conceptualize it, I only know that when it came to me, when I discovered it, it awakened things in my brain. 

The times, the hits, it's as if you were listening to something and every once in a while you were pulled or prodded, but with cuteness. Those early days in grooves by James [Brown], super crude, but at the same time expressing nonchalance and blackness. Precisely, for me it goes beyond a musical genre, it's like a style, a way of being, of living. I understand it more as a sensation, like giving you a blow, giving you joy, giving you a party, meat, giving you everything, but closing it in time. Giving you kicks with that first time, to later place other elements on that same line, in the empty spaces, and thus form a very “splitter” mass. All this also goes with the lifestyle, with the look, with the clothes, with the attitude, for me the funky it's like him afro-cuban that has a lot of things inside and, beyond a genre, it's like a way of life, it's a complete culture.

Cimafunk. Photo: Fernanda de la Torre.

Cimafunk. Photo: Fernanda de la Torre.

In this second record release entitled The food a desire is semiotically perceived—almost bordering on delirium for mixing funk and other foreign genres and styles with our Cuban popular music, as if it were a great stew. There is no shortage of phrases from you such as "Today there is a party in the pot, don't leave, it will burn you" or "It's time for seasoning with funky", etc. What is this obsession about?

The food It's not just my production. It's a Jack Splash production and I assisted with the music production; So it wasn't like I was 100 percent in control of what was going on, it was a collaboration. And in a certain way, a mixture was also born from there. 

Actually, for me it has become something natural. I'm not making music trying to mix or trying to reach a place, that comes out organically. I do it for the cuteness. When you hear a song from The food and suddenly a tumbao enters, or some Latin resources, Cuban at the end, that gives it flavor and that's why I do it. Because it comes out like that, because it makes it more “acidic”, it makes it richer, warmer, the bass also makes it warmer. When you incorporate all those elements it looks like a funky, but it is also a afro-cuban, is a mixture that begins to occur naturally. It's not something that I can predetermine or organize or connect with always looking for a little bit of it. It's not like "we're going to mix this rhythm with this", it's just what comes out. In a way, everything is mixed and making something pure is quite difficult. I, who am not a musician and don't understand that, feel free to put everything I think it has, what I know I can put into it and what I understand to be Cuban music, Afro-Cuban music. 

The guests on this album are top notch: Chucho Valdés, Lupe Fiasco, ChocQuibTown, CeeLo Green, El Micha, Los Papines, Lester Snell, Stylo G. However, I can dare to say that the historical weight of the song Funk Aspirin alongside that great named George Clinton is of epic proportions. I would dare to say that this piece is, to funk, what it was to jazz Butter. How was the experience of working with the crazy and brilliant leader of Parliament-Funkadelic?

The experience of working with George Clinton was one of the most "brutal" I have ever had in my life so far. It was very healthy, cheerful, a constant electricity. Like being in a daze all the time, but with happiness and joy. Recapitulating over and over again "this is coming true, this is really happening". George spent the whole time teaching me, showing me information and talking about different things. When we started talking, we got into a bunch of super crazy channels, talking about Cuban music, because he's a fan. He told me about when he was a barber and that what he heard on the radio, on R&B stations, was Cuban music, Afro-Cuban music. 

He speaks in rhythm and when he got on the microphone it was like going back to preschool for me, he had perfect lines, everything he sang was perfect. Seeing something so big up close was like seeing a tree for the first time. So we spent hours and hours. At the same time, he was relaxed, humble, happy, super positive and educational, connected with the flow, with the beat, with everything. 

Funk Aspirin It was the song that I did when I was burned out by the entire lockdown of the pandemic, I was overwhelmed by not being able to play live, which is what feeds me and what I like the most. Suddenly I said “the only thing left for me to do is write this song”. There I started from scratch and then with Jack we started to put it together. When I started writing, the first thing that came out was "what you're wearing is funky to take away your stress”. At that moment I said, this is my song, it's my pill, the pill I needed to be rich again and continue enjoying life, even if I'm locked up. That pill was the one I needed at the time, George felt that way too and we connected. That's why, when you listen to George's lines, all those phrases are enjoyable, they are “wake up, you're alive”, “wake up, we're having fun”. The song has that energy and it's one of my favorites on the album and in life, it was a dream come true.

The positive impact of your music in the United States and Europe is evident. Does it behave in the same way in Latin America? The question is given by the diverse panorama of well-known funk bands at the regional level. I'm thinking of Los Tetas, Papanegro, Chancho en Piedra, La Katana Funk, MaderFunker, Migajas, Big Pollo Funk, La Roja Funk, Azul Violeta, among others...

The truth is that in Latin America I have played very little. I have a notion of what is happening with the music through the platforms of streaming, where I can see how the numbers behave. A few months ago, with the different releases, the place where my music was being heard the most in Latin America was in Lima, Peru. I have never been to Peru, but it gave me great joy to know that my music is heard there. The truth is that I'm crazy to start going down. The first concert I gave with the band was in Bogotá, but it was a long time ago. I haven't even played in Mexico. I'm crazy to get into it, which is the idea now, to connect more with my Latin cousins and start downloading, forming madness and giving concerts, doing collaborations, and learning a lot. Because there is a cultural source that I would like to get into and spend some time feeding on all that information that is so different, so authentic and genuine, and that I am crazy to get to it.  

What has it meant for Cimafunk (in terms of production) to share with that musical spirit named Jack Splash?

Sharing with Jack in the production happened in the best way. We ended up having a strong friendship relationship and understanding each other in a thousand things. There were sessions in which we didn't even make music, we spent time talking about life, music, one's ideas, and how we see things. It was an educational process, of healing, also of joy, joy of knowing him and of learning. Because I learned producing with Jack, I learned a lot because he is a producer who is willing to teach you all the time. And, as we say, he was constantly "giving away honey". One feels that there are many people who keep knowledge to themselves, with Jack that never happened, all the time he was helpful and a friend. 

From production I learned a lot and on a personal level I learned more. He has a flow original and spiritual, very spiritual; It was like salvation in this time of pandemic, making music with someone like that, understanding a thousand things that I didn't understand. At the same time, learning about life, career, industry, things that are necessary to know. It was something very impressive and special.

Cimafunk. Photo: Ellen Miller.

Cimafunk. Photo: Ellen Miller.

How do you see the health of alternative music in Cuba, and the fact that in 2018 funk was included as one more category within the Cuerda Viva Awards?

I don't understand the term very well when talking about alternative music. But I feel that all that is funky, everything that has that flavor, mixed with hip hop and other genres, has grown. I see many young musicians connected to that sound: New World Jota, Tobías Alfonso and Los Monos Lácteos with fresh mechanics, Kilomboyz who are heating up, La Pimienta, Toques del Río (my consorts from Pinar del Río who lower a funky brutal and they are devastating). There's Kamankola, doing all of this mixed with his hip hop. Joao del Monte, which is something huge that has to do with funk and pop. Even more underground you can meet a lot of people. I think that things are going down a path where we are going to see much more of this music in Cuba and that is delicious, because it gives variety to the environment. 

There has always been a strong movement of this type of music in our country. I'm talking about bands like Habana Abierta, Free Hole Negro, Ogguere, Reynier Aldana downloading tasty with a funky pop, Yolo Bonilla, Jordis Toledo. And I'm sure I forget many. David Torrens that's what he's always done, it's a mix of trova, but he has a brutal funk, acid in the music he makes, from there I learned a lot. That reference that David has left, is the one that we have taken and that we are releasing to the new kids as well. There is much to feed on, starting with Irakere until today. 

What I like the most is that now they are putting more afro-cuban, and you lose a little flow that there was at a certain moment when I started experimenting, that I was trying to get closer to the American sound. Now they are more focused on putting the afro-cuban which, in the end, is what is going to take it out of the ordinary, and it is going to make us compete with such a strong sound that is not originally from here. We are going to put what is ours and with what is ours then we advance further, we put a little here and there, but always with our base. When I realized that was when I said "this is serious." when you put the afro-cuban what you are creating, when you get to the root, is the most genuine thing you can do, because it is what you know. If you are in Cuba and you grew up in Cuba listening to that music, it is inside your brain. When you express it, there will be nothing more original and genuine. You just have to find a way to express it yourself, in your own way, without prejudice and without conditioning. I see that this is happening a lot now and I think that if it goes from there to there, it goes “to the top of the mess”. 

The funk category seems perfect to me, it seems “lethal” to me. In the end funk is involved in a lot of music, if you have a category of rock and roll, the funky is necessary too. The funky you can hear it much more in music, in other songs, especially by alternative Cuban artists, than rock and roll. I really felt happy with this category, I wish one day they would put on an Afro-Cuban music, or Afro-Cuban music with funk, one of those movies, and make a big mess. 

Cimafunk. Photo: Fernanda de la Torre.

Cimafunk. Photo: Fernanda de la Torre.

do you consider that The food (in the midst of a terrible global pandemic, a post-truth climate and increasingly polarized relations between Cuba and the United States) could it be a light in terms of rapprochement? In other words… Does your album The food Could you help make visible that good, friendly and intelligent side that has always united both nations in musical and cultural matters?

I don't know what it can do or cause. What I know is that I never saw this album with that approach, I feel like I did it for myself. It's me expressing myself and trying to be happy during that pandemic year. At the same time music always unites, it has the power to unite, to separate and to go crazy. I don't connect with the powers he has, I just release what I feel and say what I think as a human being, what I live, what I know, what I don't know, and what I want to let people know. The rest is the interpretation of each one, it is a sensory experience and each one will feel it differently. I don't know for sure what it can cause, but I do know that it always leads to something. 

Music has the power to drive people crazy, especially live. All kinds of complexes and all kinds of consciousness are lost, everyone is giving the flesh what the flesh asks of it, which is movement, sweat and madness. At that moment I think that people don't care where we come from, they don't care who we are, what matters to them is that we continue on stage giving them music, because they're happy, they're happy, it's addictive and they want more. That's the only thing I know, when I see that reaction I feel like there comes a point where people forget everything and connect with the music. 

The rich thing about this experience is that everyone will feel it and will react differently. That's why this album is called The food, because it is to feed your spirit. 

Alexander Zamora Montes Alexander Zamora Montes More posts

Leave a comment

View published comments
  1. Lando Lavarra says:

    This interview is excellent. Congratulations Alejandro for capturing so many emotions in written words. Imagine that I was the one talking to Cimafunk.

  2. Enrique says:

    Excellent interview!!!

  3. Naomi Leyva says:

    What a complete artist. Thank you for so much love, you are the music that humanity needs ❤️

View published comments

We also suggest