Cimafunk. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Marie Aureille.
Cimafunk. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Marie Aureille.

Cimafunk: "I do not want my music to be an alternative"

16 minutos / Leannelis Cárdenas Díaz

05.09.2018 / Interviews

When it comes to Cuban music, we face an ocean of sound possibilities, ranging from the interpretation of traditional genres in their purest form to the appropriation of very specific elements of our identity. Therefore, it is difficult to combine the purely Cuban sonorities with global and contemporary aesthetic codes.

That's why my astonishment when I discovered, almost by chance, in a subject entitled Paciente, the perfect combination between the typical funk music and a common "tumbao" of son montuno, feeling the same groove and cadence. That admiration increased once I put a face to that voice and I found Cimafunk, a guy from Pinar del Río who sings Cuban funk. With such credentials, it is more than understandable my need to talk with him, one of the exponents of contemporary Cuban music that has more acceptance within the current sound scenario.

Backed by an almost mystical imaginary, Erick A. Iglesias "Cimafunk" supports his artistic proposal on a particular cultural identity. His ability to move from one place to another, both musical and aesthetic, is a determining factor in his creation.  

What is Cimafunk?

Cimafunk is the mix of Afro-Cuban music with funk, it has to do with what I am. I realized that I was very identified with "the afro thing", that's why Cimafunk has "cima", which comes from maroon. Then, in my family history, I started looking for that link and discovered that we had an ancestor who came from Nigeria and who was a character. I do not really know if he was a slave, but he did come to Cuba at that stage.

Did you feel identified with everything Afro or only with the "culture of maroon"?

With Afro in general. What interests me most about the Afro is the wild thing because it is what has more to do with me. In the times of slavery in Cuba were the maroons and slaves, and I prefer to be a maroon. In addition, the music of the maroon has its transformations. All of them had their own identity, their way of playing the drum, and suddenly, those people living in the same place, living together, there was created another culture, which is what I am trying to find.

I already feel that my music is something in between, something else. That's why I like to identify with the maroon, because in my view, my work, what I do is a bit out of the way, what is sounding.

What elements do you think that differentiate your music from others that currently sound in Cuba?

I think the difference is that I manifest myself in my own way, and what I always try to do is show myself as I am. The end of the road, what one seeks or at least what I seek, is to be more and more sincere with music. Be as honest as possible in the show and express myself as I really want. It's about unloading myself. And then when that happens, I realize how much fun and how good I feel doing it.

So, for you, your artistic proposal goes beyond the musical?

My proposal is a show, an identity, a message to enjoy something new and to open up many people's minds. There is a void of this type of music; and the masses need it.

Cimafunk concert at the Cuba Pavilion, Havana. Photo: Marie Aureille.

Cimafunk concert at the Cuba Pavilion, Havana. Photo: Marie Aureille.

When you say this kind of music, what do you mean?

To the music that I do, which is the mix of Afro-Cuban music with funk. I do not say alternative or fusion. I do not want my music to be an alternative, I want my music to be what it is.

It's good when suddenly that music reaches the masses, to people who feel identified with other genres, who can suddenly learn a song and like it. That suddenly my dad, my aunts, or the people of the neighborhood can enjoy that music. That's the idea. I feel that it is important for my music and for another lot of music that there is in Cuba that begins to reach the whole world, that is massive.

Where does Cimafunk drink sonorously, what are your musical references?

Old music ... El Benny, Arsenio Rodríguez, Rolando Laserie. In the case of Laserie ... he is something that blows my mind, besides, his shows also fit me a lot, how he dressed and that. From here in Cuba there are many more people. For example, José Luis Cortés, his work, his performance. I've always thought "Look at this guy what he's into". His clothes, the musicians, the singers, the madness... Everything he did that is a very violent performance, I have always liked. Los Van Van... all Cuban music has a lot of quality.

Yes, but when we listen to Cimafunk, other influences are also perceived ...

Yeah right. On the other hand, there is the music of the United States, the music of the world, of Africa, of Nigeria. Fela Kuti is a very strong thing. I think I have a lot of influence from his music and his musical concept, and from James Brown of course. The whole funk thing that later becomes pop, hip-hop, these trends that came out of it. So, what I do is mix that in my own way. I feed from there all the time.

Then, based on what you said earlier, you can understand that your music has as fundamental pillars funk in its purest state, Afro music and Cuban music. If we see it from these three aspects, which one do you think is most present in your musical creation? Do you think that your music is a fusion of elements of Afro and Cuban music having funk as a base, or do you think it is a fusion of foreign rhythms taking Cuban music as a foundation?

When I write a song I usually start with something I feel. Many times I start with a "tumbao" on the guitar, and to that "tumbao" I'm incorporating it things. For me, it is very difficult to define which element is more present.

Afro is something that lately pulls me a lot. Fela Kuti groove pulls me a lot on the new things I'm doing, just like funk. This type of movement in the drums and bass, making those rhythmic and melodic patterns that are repeated is pulling me a lot. But Cuban music is the same.

Sometimes when I do a song, although I do not focus on it, the element of Cuban is present because it is inevitable. If you look closely, all my songs have something Cuban. Sometimes these elements are all the time in the base, other times there is a piece that is Cuban and then it enters with a timba but that is more for the funk, although in the end it is Cuban music and it is crazy.

The way to merge these types of music is intentional or spontaneous?

Usually, it comes when I start to put the issues together. I usually do the songs on the computer, the base or what is the essence of the theme I always do at home. Then I come to the rehearsal and we start to try things. Suddenly you go for a piece and you think "... and what if we put here this thing ..., let's try this there ... Well, ok, it stayed." That's happening like that, it's quite spontaneous.

Seeing you act, it is very easy to realize that you have a lot of James Brown in your performance, in the gestures, in the way of dancing, in the force on stage, in the image. Is this "appropriation" intentional or is it something unconscious in you?

When you make this music, when you play a funk like Ando relajao, that kind of thing, that's what James Brown did, he dictated the ways. The reference that I have of that music is him, as it is also for a lot of people who hear that kind of music. Everyone who has done some popular music, especially something that has to do with pop more ahead, with funk, with hip-hop, all those people have drunk James Brown because there is no other.

For me, it is a pride to be associated with a character that is so important for the music of the world. I have to do with James and also with Benny. I copycat those people. I copycat their music, I study them, because in the end all the music is already made. All we are doing is recycling, and if you recycle what is good you have the possibility of achieving better things than if you recycle the most current, which are not bad but they have already made their recycling process.

The best thing is to recycle from the pure product. I prefer to go back and forth, and look from there, feed from there and then transmit it my way. They marked their time, they created something. From scratch, they took and made "boom" something great; We are here making a remix, all of us.

Another aspect that attracts a lot of attention and that is characteristic of Cimafunk is your vocal projection, the same that at times may sound half-cracked or seemingly neglected in terms of placement. Do you do this on purpose? Do you intend to make this look a stylistic stamp of Cimafunk?

That is my voice. Each song is sung in a way. For example, Para el tiempo, which is a pop song is sung in falsetto completely; A Cuban theme is sung with a voice color that has to do with your voice too, but that is a different way of placement. I do not understand it well, but I feel that I put it in a different way when I'm going to sing something like Ponte pa’ lo tuyo.

The song Alabao, in the sung part, it has a different projection because I intentionally want the whole band to leave at that moment, to stay singing along with the piano and to be more subtle, until the whole band re-enters. It is a pretty nasal stamp in some parts, in others not. Everything has to do with the song, with the rhythm, with the climax.

When I do a song, I think about the show, going down to the people, going up, suddenly giving them a rap. I'm looking for ways to project that with the voice. But yes, it's my natural voice, it's what it is. I do not know about the academy because I did not study music in academia or anything like that. I do it as I am, and so I'm quite comfortable. Anyway, if I have to give a day classes or something of that would be great, but at the moment I feel comfortable with my voice color.

What do you think is the artistic-musical element that most attracts Cimafunk to the public? What is the biggest hook that your band has?

I think it's the themes and the sincerity of the whole band, the enjoyment. When you see the band and see what is happening you get it. The songs are quite new, they are danceable. Many of these have to do with the way they are currently speaking. There are several factors.

The text is something that people understand because it talks about what happens to you on a daily basis, but I still combine it. I try to give the message as in a double sense, touching little things erotic, but without reaching vulgarity. It's about reflecting and communicating using people's words. Today it is not said, "you left me, my love" or "you are a harpy", the people in the street speak differently, I speak differently. I can not now write a song and try to write it the way I do not speak, because I'm not being honest and that's what people understand. That is why the public feels connected... they are speaking your language.

I feel identified with what I do in a natural way, it is simply writing a text as you feel it and above all how you can communicate it. And I throw it like that, and in the end, people understand it and can dance it. And when he goes to the show, he sees that the musicians and I are enjoying it. You can not make music that is to enjoy and not be enjoying, because if not people say "you are cheating me, crazy". "You're a worker, you're doing a worker's job and this is art, it's communication, it's something else." So, what I do is like what I do and like how I do it. That's what people like, because people want to feel good.

Does Cimafunk have the ideal sound for you?

It still needs a lot. We still have to rehearsal a lot, especially we lack time. That is one of the things that has me always more worried. You are reaching one thing, but you can not accommodate yourself because the fact that people like you does not mean that everything is fine. The sound we are having now is not the ideal sound that I would like to have at a certain time. I want to put metals...

What really matters to me is the sound of the band in live presentations, because the album you do anyway. That is a year of production in your house, putting this, taking away the other, that is done, but the live thing is the really important thing. Live you have to be enough; that's why I'm always trying to find the things that are missing in that sense, and it's a lot.

It is necessary to improve the conception of what is wanted, the cleanliness in the sound, the safety in what is played, what the bass does, even the arrangements. All the live tracks are made different from how they are on the disc. So you have to fix it, you have to close it because when you're in front of people is different. But yes, it still needs a lot.

If you were given to choose musicians at random to build Cimafunk again, who would be part of your band?

That's complicated because I've looked for people a lot, but right now with these kids that I am I feel so comfortable. We all understand the message, they are all new, ready for what needs to be done. I like the level of communication we have, the fact that we can all reach a level of understanding where the job is the most important, not that the musician is the most important, not that I am the most important. The product, in general, has to be the most important.

There are musicians who are super good, super talented, but suddenly it is difficult for them to communicate more generally, not with the other musicians, but with the concept of the music that is being made at that moment. If you do pop or if you do a funk song where the bass line is the same because it has to be like that, because it's the groove what keeps people going, it is necessary that that bass player be able to play that and that's it. So, you can look for the best musician in the world, but if you can not keep your fingers playing the same thing over and over again because that's what the topic is about, if you can not keep doing that, it's not functional, it does not help. You need to feel the importance of making a note, transmit more with less.

That's why I feel super cool with these kids, because they understand that. And above all funk... Funk is what you do not touch. That's what makes the groove it stays. Silence is what gives you the cadence, what gives you the essence. And it's very difficult when you have very good musicians. I also tell you that here there are very virtuous and talented musicians who understand that perfectly, because here there are great musicians, but there are many who do not. It's always like the search and it's always like more difficult when I explain it.

I'm not a musician, I do not know anything about music. I record the songs with the voice in the house and I say to a musician "come to record what I did". Then it is more difficult when you, in the middle of an rehearsal, have to explain to him that the concept is different, that the thing is different and then he says "no, but this is the right thing musically"; and you have to go back and say "but that's not what matters to me, what I want is what is right here, in this, what everyone feels or at least find the way in which everyone I can feel it. " So with these kids I'm really good because they understand that perfectly and every day more. I think we are achieving the path towards a more specific sound, towards a place where we finally find a sound of our own.

Leannelis Cárdenas Díaz

Leannelis Cárdenas Díaz

Siempre cantando y sonriendo. ¡No hay mejor manera de enfrentar la vida! Músico y musicóloga los siete días de la semana. Cubana de pies a cabeza, por dentro y por fuera. Palabras claves: música, familia, luz, amigos, viento, libre, girasol, sonrisa, miel, Cuba.

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