One of the hottest artists in Latin music, Cimafunk – Erik Alejandro Iglesias Rodríguez to his mother – became a major star in his native Cuba with his sizzling blend of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean music with American funk and hip-hop sounds as found on acclaimed albums Terapia and El Alimento. It was inevitable that he and his stellar band would translate their rock stardom Northward, with successful tours, critical acclaim, collaborations with George Clinton, Lupe Fiasco and Cee-Lo Green, and an appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. So we were thrilled when he accepted our invitation to make his Austin City Limits debut, and what an amazing performance it was as he turned the Moody Theater into a full-on dance floor.
Looking sharp in sunglasses and star-covered shirt, Cimafunk and his eight-piece band the Tribe took to the stage and began with the piano-led power ballad “Salvaje,” keyboardist Arthurito El “Wao” framing the leader’s soulful powerhouse of a voice, and serving as a clearing of the air before the rhythmfest to come. Pump thus primed, the band leapt into the irresistibly funky “Rómpelo,” bringing the heat. The group leaned more directly into its Cuban heritage with the fiery rhumba “Te Quema La Bemba,” getting the Cuban motion going for all of the dancers. Just to make sure all settings were on boil, Cimafunk followed with “Caramelo,” which took the best of Cuban rhythms and American funk and distilled it down to its inescapably danceable essence. There was no time for any breathcatching, though, as the groove-soaked “La Papa” kept the hot streak, well, hot, with a perfect blend of Afro-Cuban and American funks, a spotlight on horn women Hilaria and Kay Cacao, and Cima’s rapid-fire vocals adding their own spice to the percolating breakdown.
The heat continued sizzling from there. The funky mambo of “Cocinarte,” with its rap bridge, call-and-response backing vocals, and instrumental firepower, turned up the flame, while the spirited, tongue-twisting Latin funk of “ El Regalao Se Acabó” felt the burn and shared it with the crowd. The band incorporated hip-hop influences more overtly in the single “Beat Con Flow,” with Cima bringing most of the musicians to center stage, the Cacaos once again up front, dominating with sharp riffs and lively dance moves. Without a pause, the band dug straight down into bassist’s Caramelo’s dirty funk riff for “Apretado,” a ravishing groove topped off with Bejuco’s muscular guitar solo. Cimafunk and crew then exploded into a spectacular James Brown rhythm for the monstrously funky “Relajao,” a blazer taking in dance showcases for percussionists Big Happy and Machete, a finger-busting bass solo, more love for/from the horns, and an absolutely merciless groove from drummer Dr. Zapa.
Driving the already frenzied crowd even further off the rails, Cimafunk concluded the set with a feverish “Me Voy,” his star-making Cuban hit. Cima chose members of the audience to join the band onstage and shake their groove things. How the band (or the audience!) had anything left after that is a mystery, but they did, as everyone returned to the stage for the groove-approved “Funk Aspirin,” the opening cut on El Alimentio featuring (on record, at least) legendary funk wizard George Clinton – he wasn’t here, but the funky-ass tune didn’t suffer in his absence. “Put your hands up!” Cimafunk and Big Happy insisted, and how could anyone resist? “Never forget,” Cimafunk noted at the end, “Shake that booty!” We can’t wait for you to see this monster performance when it airs this fall on your local PBS station as part of our Season 48.