Cimafunk's 'El Alimento' blends Afro-Cuban rhythms with classic American funk

Oct 8, 2021
Originally published on October 8, 2021 6:08 pm

There are two sides to the Cuban artist Erik Iglesias Rodríguez, who performs as Cimafunk. "Cima" is an homage to the cimarrón, a word that refers to Cubans of African descent who escaped enslavement. And "funk," he says, "because you got all the African roots that came to the United States and transformed gospel [and] the blues to get funk."

Rodríguez and his band just released a new album, El Alimento. It's a wildly danceable collection of songs that's steeped in both Afro-Cuban rhythms and classic American funk.

The album opens with "Funk Aspirin," featuring funk legend George Clinton. Rodríguez calls the collaboration "one of the greatest experiences" of his career. "You expect it's going to be so intense," he says of working with Clinton. "But in the end, it was like talking with a friend." He says he and Clinton also bonded over the influence of Afro-Cuban music on Clinton's music, too.

Rodríguez joined NPR's Ari Shapiro to talk about how he incorporated his grandmother's wisdom into the album and how much he's looking forward to returning to the stage after the pandemic. Listen in the audio player above, and stream Cimafunk's latest album below.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There are two sides to the Cuban artist Cimafunk. The first is an homage to the Cimarrones, enslaved people who ran away from their Spanish enslavers.

CIMAFUNK: Cima (ph) came from the maroons. The maroon was the slave that was in Cuba. They left the houses, the - they escaped in the enslavement time (ph). And they started to live in the middle of the forest, just hiding, trying to get their freedom.

SHAPIRO: And the other half of the name Cimafunk?

CIMAFUNK: And funk because all the African root that came to the United States and transformed - sings the gospel, the groove, to get to the funk. For that reason, I choose these two names.

SHAPIRO: Cimafunk's real name is Erik Rodriguez, and his band's second album called "El Alimento" is out today. It's a danceable collection of songs that blend Afro-Cuban rhythms with classic American funk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROMPELO")

CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish).

SHAPIRO: I want to see if we can identify the ingredients that make up this music and create a new sound out of the combination. To start with - the cima. Is there a place that history, those roots, come through on this album that you can hear what that ingredient sounds like?

CIMAFUNK: Oh, yes, it's a lot of them. You can hear it, for example, in "This Is Cuba," "El Reparto" (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESTO ES CUBA")

CIMAFUNK: (Vocalizing). Hey.

You can hear it in many parts of the song. But when I say, like - (singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESTO ES CUBA")

CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish).

The lyric is talking about that. It's like an homage to the village of this maroon people in Matanzas. That is a province in Cuba where it was - a lot of places where we were living enslaved. All the music that you hear there is Afro-Cuba, mixing also with funk.

SHAPIRO: This track, "Esto Es Cuba," also references the town you grew up in, Pinar Del Rio, in western Cuba. Can you paint a picture for us of what this place is like, what your life there was like?

CIMAFUNK: It's beautiful, man, beautiful. It's a countryside city. And the people is really humble, and everybody's family. I don't know how many people live in my neighborhood, but everybody's family.

SHAPIRO: And is there music in the neighborhood?

CIMAFUNK: Yeah, all time, man, all time. Every day, every day. We didn't have, like, equipment for reproducing music. But all the time in that moment in the TV and in the neighborhood - also, in the neighborhood, all the time was music. And my friends in the street, they - all people always listen - Mexican music. They was getting drunk, playing dominoes and listening like - (singing in Spanish). All this music - Mexican.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CIMAFUNK: There was a lot of mix of everything - African rhythms and African music. Sometimes we'll play, like, Christian music, salsa or timba music. It's a crazy mix, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF CIMAFUNK SONG, "ESTO ES CUBA")

SHAPIRO: So you've explained the cima half of Cimafunk; let's talk about the funk. The first track on this album, "Funk Aspirin," features the funk legend himself, George Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNK ASPIRIN")

GEORGE CLINTON: (Singing) Funky. Bah-bah (ph). Funky.

SHAPIRO: What was it like to be blessed by this patriarch of funk music?

CIMAFUNK: Bro, it was - has been, like, one of the greatest experiences in my career.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNK ASPIRIN")

CLINTON: Put your hands in the air.

CIMAFUNK: It's unreal because at the same time, you expect, like, he's going to be so intense. But at the end, it wasn't. It was like a - talking with a friend. We recorded the track in a couple, I don't know, minutes because this guy is like - bang, bang. He grabbed the mic. There's nothing to fix, nothing to arrange. He just grabbed the mic, and he started to drop flow and drop groove.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNK ASPIRIN")

CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish). Shake it.

SHAPIRO: Did this help you see something about the connection between the Afro-Cuban history that you were raised with and the African American history that George Clinton comes from?

CIMAFUNK: All the time, and we was talking about that a lot. We was talking about that a lot because he have a lot of influence from the Afro-Cuban music because he was making me - the history telling me that when he was a barber in New York, the music that was on in the R&B station was Afro-Cuban music. He said, like, yeah, man, this was, like, a big deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNK ASPIRIN")

CLINTON: You are free to shake your rump tonight. Bend over. Dong, dong, deezy (ph). Dr. Funkenstein.

SHAPIRO: This album was clearly made to dance to, and a lot of the tracks are about love, women, partying. But there's one track that offers some kind of life wisdom. It's called "Sal De Lo Malo" - get out of trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAL DE LO MALO")

CIMAFUNK: (Speaking Spanish).

SHAPIRO: What were you thinking about when you wrote this?

CIMAFUNK: I was thinking in my hometown, especially my grandma and my mom and the way that they put me out of trouble and the way that they teach me the things. And it's about that. I was thinking that, and I was like, yeah, man, we've got to make a song for the kids because they are the future. So I was just talking through the teaching of my mom and my grandma.

SHAPIRO: What's one of the things that your mother and your grandmother taught you that you think of still now as an adult?

CIMAFUNK: They was always - for example, don't lie because there's always going to be a problem if you lie, you know? Don't steal - that was the main stuff (ph) in my neighborhood.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CIMAFUNK: Don't steal because we all was living together. Everybody was together sharing everything. So don't take nothing that is not yours. Don't disrespect the old people. You know, if someone was talking in my house, my grandma with some friend or my mom with some friend, I couldn't go and start talking in the middle of the conversation. It was, like, a big mistake. But all this teaching was with a lot of laugh and a lot of respect, but they teach me all these things. And even these things now that happened to me in the - my actual life, but they tell me when I was a kid, they tell me that this was going to happen to me. My grandmother was telling me that - like, you're going to remember me because this is going to happen to you when I die; it's going to happen to you then. And bang, bang - these things happened like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish).

SHAPIRO: I feel like we can play this music, and listeners can hear it, but we won't get the full experience unless we are on the dance floor, feeling it with our bodies in real time. I know you're doing an album release show in New Orleans. I wish I could be there for it. But I would love for you to pick a track, let us play it, and tell us what it's going to feel like when you're doing that live.

CIMAFUNK: Yeah. "Te Quema La Bemba."

SHAPIRO: OK, let's listen to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TE QUEMA LA BEMBA")

CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish).

SHAPIRO: OK, so imagine you're on stage; we're in the audience. What's going on right now?

CIMAFUNK: Bodies shaking.

(LAUGHTER)

CIMAFUNK: There's going to be bodies shaking. These Cuban - also keyboards, and the bass also is Cuban. So you're going to shake your body, man. This is - kind of slowly - (singing in Spanish). What I see is people sweating and shaking.

SHAPIRO: You missed that during the pandemic, huh?

CIMAFUNK: Yeah, man. Yeah. Now is that - it's all about that now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TE QUEMA LA BEMBA")

CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish).

SHAPIRO: Well, congratulations on your new album. It's been so good talking to you.

CIMAFUNK: Thank you, bro. Thanks to you, man. Pleasure. Thank you for the support, and thank you for the time.

SHAPIRO: Cimafunk's real name is Erik Rodriguez, and his new album is "El Alimento." It's out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TE QUEMA LA BEMBA")

CIMAFUNK: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.