Nu Deco Ensemble, Miami's own 21st-century chamber orchestra, had been eyeing a collaboration with Cimafunk, the Afro-Cuban funk singer, for quite some time. They were finally able to secure a date last November after Cimafunk was booked for the ill-fated Miami Beach Pop Festival. When festival organizers scrapped the entire event, Nu Deco and Cimafunk improvised and performed at the North Beach Bandshell.
And then came the rain.
"It was all day long. We were sure we would have a rainout," remembers Sam Hyken, Nu Deco Ensemble's CEO and cofounder.
Things didn't get any easier after Cimafunk landed in Miami. He realized he had left behind his performance shoes after his previous gig in Washington, D.C.
"It's hard to find the right shoes to dance in," Cimafunk explains. "Every [pair] I tried were too tight. They'd give me pain."
Still, despite the minor setbacks, the show did go on.
"It ended up with beautiful weather, and we had a great turnout," Hyken says.
It was an unforgettable night for all involved, but they figured that the show would only live on in concertgoers' memories due to the ephemeral nature of the performance.
However, much like everyone in 2020, Nu Deco Ensemble found itself with a lot of extra time on its hand. Soon, the idea to release a live album came about. When Hyken and conductor and cofounder Jacomo Bairos started digging through the archives, that beautiful November night with Cimafunk stood out.
"Normally, we have rehearsals, but Cimafunk is very busy," Hyken says. "My job was to create the musical arrangements. Cimafunk put me in touch with his musical director, so we talked, and I tailored the arrangements to the way he performs."
"The beauty of an orchestra is we train to be a connection point for all genres," Bairos adds. "We train so we know our notes. We should, in theory, be able to look at any music and know how to play it. His energy, though, elevated our musicianship. It was his first time ever with an orchestra. And while we didn't do the concert with the idea of making an album. COVID changed things. We looked at this concert and said this was smoking."
Cimafunk is quick to reciprocate the flattery.
"It was really easy. They're a big band, but super tight. All the musicians were super cool," he says.
In fact, Cimafunk says he'd love to have Nu Deco to play some shows in his native Cuba.
"They have an amazing theater where they have all the lights and stage that would be perfect to have them play with Cuban artists," he elaborates. "They'd love to hear this. It'd be super mega."
Nu Deco Ensemble is certainly open to future collabs with the fusion-funk artist.
"We were so proud to have a Cuban artist play in Miami," Bairos says. "Now to be able to share it with the world means a lot."