Cimafunk Fever: CET Chats With Cuba's Hottest Musician
Erik Alejandro Rodriguez, or Cimafunk, as he is better known, is the latest and hottest addition to Havana’s melting pot of a music scene. In Cuba, everyone knows the classic salsa singers and dancers, the Cuban anthems like Guantanamera that blast from TVs day and night. There’s the acoustic trovadors who’ve been on the island since the 1500s, the distinct Afro-Cuban rhythms that emanate from Central Havana living rooms, and the socially conscious Cuban rap that has recently made a move from the fringes of Cuban music. But there’s a new genre, happening now: a blending the past and the present, music that incorporates Cuba’s historic rhythms with modern funk, pop, or electronic music. Cimafunk blends funk, and a concert of his will take concertgoers on a ride from the rhythms of Afro-Cuban rituals to the sounds of “Brick House”, sped up and Caribbean-ized. It’s unlike anything happening in the music world today, and it can only be found in Havana.
CET President Collin Laverty sat down with Cimafunk this week to talk about the artist’s life, trajectory and the importance of getting in the groove.
What is Cimafunk?
Cimafunk is my artistic name. “Cima” comes from the Spanish word cimarron which refers to newly free runaway slaves who found refuge in the mountains and joined communities of ex-slaves around Cuba. In those communities, new forms of expression, especially cultural expression, took place.
Funk is a rhythm that came from parts of Africa, with a different name, and developed in the United States under the name funk. Though it never stops evolving, it’s older, original sound always prevails. It’s like a carbon-fueled locomotive. Funk pulls people in with its rhythm, which moves you up and down and it brings you to a natural state where you forget yourself and you become a part of the groove.
Musically, Cimafunk is funk mixed with Afro-Cuban music.
How would you describe your journey, from the rural province of Pinar Del Río to the top clubs of Havana, performances in Europe and elsewhere?
I’ve had a healthy musical trajectory. Thanks to my family and friends, I always had positive vibes around me, and that’s really important. From my beginnings in the chorus of a small church in my town until now. I had, of course, better moments than others, but for me everything was a part of a process. The thing is that I always had the idea I wanted to live off my music, to see people learn my songs and fill concert venues and to see me in concert. I always had that in my head, day and night. There was not a moment where I saw myself doing other things.
It’s hasn’t been a casual thing. I did a lot of things before going up on stage. I was a bread maker, I painted houses, I (more or less) did gardening, I studied medicine for two years before moving to Havana, and the last thing I did was work as an assistant in a car painting workshop. So, it hasn’t been easy -- it’s not like I was doing another thing and my music career fell from the sky. It was a lot of work mixed with “I fully believe that I can do this and I have what is needed” … and that type of attitude doesn’t fail, whatever it brings.
You studied two years of medicine in the University, but decided to leave school and pursue your musical career, what was that decision like?
I never gave up medicine, medicine gave me up! In those times I was going crazy and the truth is, I didn’t love medicine that much. I started studying medicine because I wanted to keep up the family tradition. My aunt is a surgeon, my cousin too, my mom is a motor skills therapist and a few others in my family work in health too. My thing was always a little different. The decision wasn’t hard, and my family always supported me.
You’ve used music to travel the world and performed for many visitors to the island, can you talk about the power of music to bring people together?
Of course, music is a big thing! It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you believe, music always mediates, and communication flows…
Music is one of the most effective tools in cross cultural understanding, after sex of course. The groove does not forgive! The truth is that I feel lucky to do what I love, and every day I meet more colorful people thanks to music. I like what I do and I like sharing it with whoever listens. Concerts and collaborations are the best part. My job is to make people happy, even for just a few hours. That is a privilege.
If you could cover one song and one song only, what would it be?
There’s a bunch of songs that I’d like to do. Right now, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” by Sam and Dave comes to mind...yes...yes!
Cimafunk’s new music video, released this week, is below.