"When I was a kid, I sang in church and listened to everything," he tells New Times. "You could hear any type of music in Cuba by then. My uncles had Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Bob Marley, and lots of dancehall music we always listened to."
At church, his elders all complimented the boy, then known by his birth name, Erik Iglesias Rodríguez, for his singing voice. But music wasn't the first career path he envisioned for himself; he spent three years in medical school. While it took him some time to come to the realization, he knew he had to quit medicine for the sake of future patients.
"My mind wasn't in the right place for medicine," he admits. "I wasn't paying attention. I would be a terrible doctor."
After dropping out, he focused on his voice and dance moves and moved to Havana, rechristening himself Cimafunk. His debut album, 2017's Terapia, mixed Cuban- and African-funk rhythms with catchy Spanish-language choruses and gained him a following that allowed him to tour the world. His energetic live performances, which see him dancing all across the stage, escalated his success.
He's hoping his sophomore album, El Alimento, will take his musical career to the next level. It certainly has some big-name guest features, including Lupe Fiasco and CeeLo Green. But what really got Cimafunk excited during the recording process was getting the chance to work with legendary musicians like the Godfather of Funk, George Clinton, and Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés.
"We were talking about people to collaborate with. I'm a big fan of George Clinton. We reached out, and he liked the music. After that, other people appeared," Cimafunk says.
While several featured artists recorded their parts separately, Cimafunk worked in the same room as Valdés and Clinton. He even shot a music video for the track "Funk Aspirin" with the man nicknamed Dr. Funkenstein.
"We talked for hours about all the Afro-Cuban movement in the U.S.'s music," he says of working with Clinton. He was also effusive in praise for Valdés. "Chucho grabs the piano, and the most simple things he did has so much soul. Chucho is an old spirit — he makes you feel things."
Cimafunk had even nicer things to say about the album's producer, Jack Splash, who's worked with artists like Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar.
"He's a teacher, and he learns too. In the middle of a session, we just talk about music or our childhood," he says. "Sometimes, people who know a lot about music don't want to give you the keys. They don't want to share their secrets. Jack would teach."
Even though they completed an entire album together, Cimafunk and Splash never met in person.
"It was all produced during the pandemic," Cimafunk says. "He was in LA and I was in France. We were never in the same room. I'd record the vocals in my room. He'd work on the bass in his room."
With El Alimento ready to be unleashed on the world in its entirety on Friday, October 8, Cimafunk is excited to perform the songs in a live setting for the first time, including at the North Beach Bandshell on Saturday, October 16.
"That's one of the first places I played in Miami. I love the sound and the open air," he says. "It's going to be fun like back in the days when all you had was a cheap bottle of rum and an acoustic guitar. It's going to be a little crazy. We're going to create a tribal state where we're all the same and people forget what they're wearing."
Cimafunk 7 p.m. Saturday, October 16, at North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5202; northbeachbandshell.com. Tickets cost $35.