Daymé Arocena at the North Beach Bandshell, Miami Beach Saturday.  Photo by Elvis Suárez ©

Daymé Arocena and Cimafunk, two of the most promising young singers and songwriters from Cuba, performed before a sold-out North Beach Bandshell, in Miami Beach, Saturday.

Both are updating traditional styles and rhythms in Cuban music, but each one approaches it in a distinctly personal way.
Arocena has the stage charm, voice, and expressiveness that can turn blender repair instructions into poetry. She opened with several pieces from the Santeria ritual before offering a set that included songs in English and Spanish, a couple of boleros, a Brazilian-style singalong, jazz scatting and even some R&B turns. Remarkably, all sounded organic, lived-in. She has an impeccable sense of time and intonation and proved to be a fearless improviser.

Next time it would be great to hear Arocena in a setting that would allow her to work with dynamics, and before an audience interested in listening. Saturday, most appeared to have come to dance to Cimafunk, aka Erik Alejandro Iglesias, arguably the hottest artist these days in Cuba. (Cimafunk alludes to Cimarrón, as the African slaves who escaped his masters were called; and funk)

Cimafunk, aka Erik Alejandro Iglesias, at the North Beach Bandshell, Miami Beach Saturday.  Photo by Elvis Suárez ©

He has developed a style built mainly on James Brown’s brand of funk with elements of Fela Kuti’s AfroPop and the sound of old Cuban big bands, but also reggaeton, a pinch of rock, jazz, and generous servings of various traditional Cuban styles. With Cimafunk, all is in play. Add to the mix street-wise lyrics delivered with charisma and you got a dance music phenomenon.

He also opened with an invocation-style piece, in his case an impressive acapella song, before unleashing his band on some of his greatest hits such as “Paciente” (Patient), “Me Voy” (I’m Leaving) and “Ponte Pa’ Lo Tuyo” (Do your thing) with the curious refrain “con mi dinero yo hago lo que quiero” (With my money I do what I want).
Saturday the presenters had removed most of the benches and left plenty of space for dancing. Wise move.


A version of this piece was published by Artburst Miami, Apil, 1st, 2019.