Concerts by Cimafunk & Afro-Cuban All Stars Showcase Cuban Music's Ongoing Evolution

Lorenzo Duaso

CImafunk performs in Barcelona on Oct. 25, 2019.

The musicians are young, but their ability to lift a room into a collective uprising of live-the-moment joy is a timeless Cuban talent.

Wearing a gold apron over his bare torso and a pair of stretch sailor pants from his band’s own clothing line, Erik Iglesias, best known as Cimafunk, kept the crowd dancing non-stop for two hours with the mix of soul, Afro-pop, disco, rap, trova, rumba and rock that has fast made the group the headliners of Cuba music’s new power generation (Prince pun intended), on the island and on tour.

The musicians, including the stage-stealing trombone player Ilarivis Garcia Despaigne, are young, but their ability to lift a room into a collective uprising of live-the-moment joy is a timeless Cuban talent. During the concert on Friday, Oct. 25, as part of the Voll Damm Barcelona International Jazz Festival, the group’s first ever date in Barcelona, Club Barts felt like Havana, especially when Iglesias waved audience members onto the stage and it filled up with dancers, mostly female and mostly Cuban. Cimafunk is a self-taught singer with a signature voice that ranges from falsettos to rapping, and who has natural cool to spare. While he and the band definitely put on a show, at the same time, they delightedly ignored the existence of the fourth wall between audience and artists. During the concert, the glaring overhead fluorescents were frequently turned on above the crowd, an intitial shock that turned into a sort of trust-building exercise as people turned to one another and jubilently kept dancing in the light. As they danced, many sang the words to the songs from Cimafunk’s aptly titled debut album, Terapía, particularly the frenzy-inducing “Me Voy.”   

Two nights later, it was the Afro-Cuban All Stars turn to keep the crowd dancing, clapping and putting hands in the air. The band’s leader, Juan de Marcos González, who is 65, has been doing it for decades, and Barcelona’s Apollo 2 club looked full of fans who had been following him  since he wrangled a group of seasoned musicians to record Ry Cooder’s 1996 Buena Vista Social Club album. The following year, González debuted the first incarnation of Afro-Cuban All Stars with the album A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, which was actually recorded just before Buena Vista with some of the same musicians. He has since toured extensively, presenting a spectrum of Cuban musical styles to international audiences.

Gonzalez’s current band features his two daughters –Laura Lydia González on clarinet and sax, and Gliceria González, who soloed on the vibes and sang. Juan de Marco’s wife of 40 years, Gliceria Abreu, was playing percussion at the back of a stage crowded with nearly a dozen other musicians in matching suits and ties. The group played some familiar songs from the original All Stars repertoire, including  pianist Lili Martinez’s historic socially conscious son “Alto Songo [Se Quema la Maya]” and “Habana del Este,” a danzón written by Juan De Marcos. Visibly proud of his accomplished children and dancing on stage with his wife,  González played the tres guitar, waded into the crowd, and, between songs, talked about – what else – Cuban music. He noted that when he first formed Afro Cuban All Stars he was the youngest musician in the group, and now he was the oldest. “That’s the way to ensure the future of Cuban music and the future of culture,” he said. “Surround yourself with young people.”