Look out world, the next funk hero has arrived. Not from the U.S., with all props and no apologies to James Brown, George Clinton, and Bruno Mars. But from Cuba.
I’m talking, of course, about Cimafunk, the exhilarating new Cuban star who played a tear-the-roof-off-the-sucker concert at Miami Beach’s North Beach Bandshell last Saturday on his first U.S. tour. Working shiny skintight pants and dark shades like he was born in them, the 29-year-old Havana-based singer channeled black American and Afro-Cuban music into a naturally unified soulsonic force. Cimafunk led a crack band in deep funk grooves, rippling rhythms, thundering rock grit, timba density, soaring son and soul vocals. The crowd packing the Bandshell pretty much never stopped moving. Or screaming.
Cimafunk sounds like the next step forward from increasingly formulaic Cuban reggaeton, the next strand in the web of musical links between Cuba and El Norte. That his music is so apolitical and happily danceable could be a very good thing in these strident times. Certainly his Miami concert, a triumphant collaboration between Fundarte, the Miami Light Project, and the Rhythm Foundation, this city’s pioneering and leading presenters of Cuban music, was a welcome reminder that, despite Republican and exile politicians’ resurgent efforts to once again cut off connections to the island, love for Cuban music is thriving in Miami. (Opening the show, which climaxed Fundarte and MLP’s Global Cuba Fest, was the sublime Cuban jazz diva Daymé Arocena.)
Fusion can often (to my ears) get lost in meandering intricacy. But though Cimafunk performed with Interactivo, Havana’s most famous fusion outfit, his complex music keeps a central drive. The Cuban elements enrich and add new flavor. He opened with an acappella that united earthy Cuban guaguanco and American soul. He often sings with the piercing, nasal tone of a sonero, but can let loose with a gutsy, full-throated roar. He’s got the inate Cuban ability to rip off intricate vocal rhythms at dizzying speed, like a funked-up scat. The band is locked into him and the groove, so tight their playing builds its own momentum.
Cimafunk doesn’t just have the musical chops, but the style, charisma, and swagger he needs. He’s not as slick as his video-honed, contemporary American counterparts, and his musicians bounce with an endearingly unself-conscious exuberance. This kind of booty-pumping fun is awfully welcome in a moment when irony, ennui, and righteousness are everywhere. Like George Clinton said “Ain’t nothing but a party.” He also said “Move your ass, and your mind will follow.” Until Cimafunk is more present in the States (a major Latin music agent was in the house in Miami, so maybe that’ll be soon), get yourself to a live show to find out.