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Amid US-Cuba Tensions, Cimafunk Bridges a Cultural Divide

June 18, 2019

The Cuban James Brown has arrived” read the headline of Colombia’s top newspaper, El Tiempo. It was February 18, 2019, and Cuba’s new musical sensation, known as Cimafunk, had landed in Bogotá with his band for their first performance outside of their homeland—as well as to secure visas for their upcoming tour of the United States. Deteriorating diplomatic relations between the Trump administration and Cuba led to a closure of the US consular section in Havana in the fall of 2017; Cimafunk and his entire band were forced to apply at the US consulate in Bogotá. Both the concert in Colombia’s capital and the visa appointment represented important steps in Cimafunk’s ascent as the next major Cuban star on the international stage of music.

Billboard has described Cimafunk as “Cuba’s 2018 revelation of the year.” The New Yorker has cited his “uncanny ability to control the energy in the room.” Argentina’s leading rock-and-roll pianist, Fito Paez, calls Cimafunk “one of the lights of the future of the continent.” As US-Cuba relations sink to new lows with Trump’s imposition of severe travel restrictions to the island, the cultural bridge that Cimafunk’s music could build across the Florida straits has become all the needed, urgent, and meaningful...

But Cimafunk and his band did more than perform; they also took on the role of cultural ambassadors. In each city they visited, musical performances were complemented with cultural, academic, and community gigs. Cimafunk shared his view on race and gender issues with students at U Penn, Brown, Howard, Morgan State, Tulane, and American University. In Los Angeles, fresh off a private performance at a mansion in the hills of Hollywood, the group visited Skid Row to provide food, T-shirts, and, of course, do a jam session. Along the way, the band offered showcases at Netflix, Google, Standard Hotels, and the California Museum of Oakland.

And in New York, Iglesias spoke at the venerable Council of the Americas on Park Avenue, describing his growth as an artist in Havana and his experience touring the United States—including his Miami show, jam-packed with members of the Cuban-American diasapora. “I really don’t care what is their position,” Cimafunk said of his approach to the traditionally hard-line Miami exile community. “If they came in a boat, or if they came in a plane, or if they came running—that’s not important for me, I just want them to have a good time at the show.”...

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